By Suma Varughese
Despite knowing what the right thing is, why don’t we do it, asks Suma Varughese
As the rain cascaded down on Mumbai, and the city rejoiced in the respite from the suffocating heat, the Sathe family sipped hot pumpkin soup with relish, joyously listening to the staccato beat of the rain. There was a sense of satisfaction among the family members, because they had succeeded in almost all the measures to save water that they had chalked out for themselves the previous month. Dad was thinking with great satisfaction of the torrents of rain running into the building’s rainwater harvesting tank and hopefully providing a buffer against water shortage.
Avijit had a thoughtful expression on his face. “Dad,” he said, “Everyone knows that water shortage is reaching critical proportions, and that rainwater harvesting is the need of the hour, or that we should reduce our water consumption, or that we should separate garbage into wet and dry. But why is it that most of us don’t do this? What makes us this way? Is it just us Indians or is everyone that way?”
Mom had a glint in her eye. “You will find the question easier to answer if you would bring it down from the universal to the particular – in short to you. Why is it that despite having told you innumerable times you still don’t make your bed, forget to take your plate to the kitchen after your meals, and do not call me or Dad to tell us when you are going to be late?”
Avijit grimaced. ”Oops,” he said, “that really hits home. Anyhow Mom, thanks for pointing this out. It gives me a chance to understand this whole thing. So let’s see. The answer is that I am too lazy, I forget, and I don’t care.”
“I guess that just about sums up why people don’t do what they should,” said Dad. “To do what we are meant to do is simply not easy. Most of our lives run around practised grooves. We do the same thing over and over again, but if we are asked to do something that goes beyond that groove, such as start rainwater harvesting or separate waste, we find it too hard.’
“So do you mean to say, Dad, that we can do what we are meant to do once we make it a habit?”
“Well, partially, yes,” said Dad. “Scientists now say that each time we do a certain activity, new synapses are formed in our brain. The more often we do this particular activity the more powerful is the groove. Eventually these activities go down from the conscious level to the subconscious one. And then they become habits. They say that if we do something continuously for 21 days in a row, it will then become a habit. So for instance, if you were to make your bed continuously for 21 days or call us up to tell us when you were coming home for 21 days, it would become a habit and your subconscious would effortlessly execute the task.”
“Wow,” said Avijit, “is that all there is to it?”
“Not really. It’s a complex question, actually. Many of us do not do what we must because we feel we cannot. Like you, we conclude that we are too lazy, too forgetful or too indifferent. It then becomes very difficult to do these tasks because our subconscious is already coming from the assumption that we cannot do it.”
Dad added, “The subconscious is a very interesting entity. Its job is to bring into reality whatever is our constant thought, or feeling. If we feel that we are smart and capable and born doers, that will be our reality. And if we believe that we are weak, have low will power and so on, that too will be made into a reality by the subconscious. And the more it recreates the reality, the stronger the conviction.”
“Oh,” said Avijit, “is there no way out of this?”
“We are condemned to nothing,” said Dad. “A merciful God has designed a way out. All we need to do is to feed the opposite thoughts and beliefs, and we will get out of this groove in time.”
Added Mom, “It is also extremely important that you do not keep beating yourself up about your lapses. You need to be able to forgive yourself, and remind yourself of your potential to do these things.”
She added with a guilty look, “It also helps if those around you don’t shame or blame you, or put you down. Hmm, I guess, son, I had better back off and not criticise you any more.”
“Yes, good self-esteem is crucial in making internal changes. Poor self-esteem can drag us down, cause us to doubt ourselves, to put ourselves down, and to lose motivation,” said Dad. “In fact, you wondered if India was particularly prone to not doing what it should and that is one of the reasons. Our self-esteem has been fractured, and our psyche fragmented by the many centuries of foreign rule. We are recovering from it but we still do not have as good a self-image as we could, and that is why it is hard for us to do what we must.”
Ajoba joined in, “There are more reasons why some of us do and some of us don’t. In Indian philosophy there is the concept of gunas which can be roughly translated as properties. All of creation is considered to be a combination of three properties: tamas, rajas and satva. Tamas is inaction, rajas is action and satva can be considered to be effortless action or stillness in action. So those of us who have a larger proportion of tamas will find it hard to do; rajasics act, but their action is directed by desire and not by conscience. Only satvics have the capacity to do what must be done.”
Dad added, “And then again, according to another school of thought, humanity is divided into two types – the contemplatives and the practical minded. The contemplatives think; their capacity to act is limited, but they are the visionaries who tell the world where to go. The practical minded are the doers who take the world in the right direction.”
Ajoba had the last word, “Eventually all of us must become thinkers and doers; our tamas, rajas and satva proportions must be balanced. That is our final goal.”
Avijit sagged with relief, “So somewhere in the fullness of time, I will finally make my bed in the morning!” he grinned.
“Give or take a light year,” said Mom wryly.
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