Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Persecution and Confidence

In my childhood, I felt constantly bullied and persecuted by many of my peers. They would call me 'studious', 'scholar', 'fundu' etc. all in a derogatory sense. I used to feel left out and socially rejected. My unhappiness with myself left me very lacking in confidence. But I still liked sitting by myself, peering into books, drawing, doing mathematical puzzles, ... instead of playing cricket, or gossiping about girls and movies sitting on the street culverts. I -- thankfully -- didn't try to fake myself.

As we all grew older, two interesting things happened. Firstly, those who used to call me names for being studious and academic, suddenly became serious about their studies. That was in the senior years in the high school. They scored an ace in the board exams and got into very good colleges. They proved that if they wished, they could actually study harder than I could. My scores remained the same throughout. These people are now doing very well in their lives. It was in the end all about the capability and competition for them. For them, studies were a vehicle to doing well in life, to prove their capability. What really got proved is that it was necessity which drove their actions, while it was mere individual taste which made me do what I did. They would do exactly what I had been doing, but only when forced by circumstances.

Secondly, I gradually grew out of my own nerdy self-image and turned into a reasonably social person. Thanks to my finding almost everything interesting, I found it rather easy to connect with anyone who had something about his personality that was driven by genuine passion, even in subjects which I wasn't good at, e.g. sports.

In my grown up years, I still keep encountering a similar, though a lot milder (or should I say, repressed) form of persecution. It affects me less and less by the day. And here's why ...

Firstly, people who initially come across as arrogant and rude on the first encounter later often turn out to be shy and introvert. People who avert eye contact in public places, always wait for you to start the conversation, appear extremely thankful when you are the one breaking the ice. So, in most cases, I find it a good idea to approach a person with a guilt-free smile.

Secondly, those who find it necessary to persecute someone, particularly when that person has done nothing wrong, are those who feel uncomfortable from the fact that there's someone who is not exactly like them. Most people draw confidence and reassurance by placing themselves in the middle of a group which has a bunch of individuals, indistinguishable from him and each other. The code of conduct followed in such a group is behave exactly like others. Each individual strives hard to understand the collective characteristics of the group: the activities, the body language, the lingo, the topics of discussion. And like classical sycophants, they pay lip-service to the collective unuttered beliefs of the groups. The DNA of such a large group (look out for a bunch of giggling, roaring youngsters at the streets, malls, and other public places who seem to look like a very happy lot from a distance) is that of insecurity. The social security felt by its members is through conformity to tacit rules. And those rules associate with the lowest common denominator of intellect and character, so even the lowest of the lowly don't feel uncomfortable in that group. The other typical behaviour of such a group is that of rejecting and persecuting all non-compliance. Their extreme discomfort at coming across people who aren't insecure enough to comply to the lowest common denominator rule is expressed through ridicule and rejection. Often, they will charge you of the same crimes they are themselves guilty of. They will call you studious (meaning to say that you work hard to get accepted by some order that you feel subservient to). They will call you scholarly or bookish (meaning that your field of vision is limited by what you pay lip service to). These are really the characteristics of the group the membership to which gives them the guts to call names at you.

To this, a relevant footnote would be that this behaviour is by no means unnatural. Humans are social creatures, which means that it is in their nature to feel happy and secure in herds. The eagerness to belong to some social order, and the knee-jerk repulsion towards any show of non-compliance, are a very biological trait. Though innocent and involuntary by itself, it has often been a defining element in the history of human race: extremism and intolerance of any form is essentially a manifestation of this very characteristic, and lies at the root of most bloodshed that has happened on this planet.

To cut a long story short, through long years, I have realised that I have led a life driven by more honest and sane forces than those who used to persecute me in my childhood. When I meet many of them now, surprisingly there's an immediate feeling of kinship, with no bitterness remaining from the childhood days. Not so much because I have changed my ways and have become more 'social', but because -- I honestly believe -- these individuals have grown less insecure of themselves and are able to feel comfortable in the company of a person who doesn't try too hard to proclaim his indistinguishableness from them. Some of childhood peers who I come across after years of separation, haven't conquered their childhood insecurity. And with them, even after so many years, I get the same sense of rejection. This rejection no more can take the shape of ridicule, persecution, name-calling. Because the herd which was the prime source of the courage that allowed them to ridicule me, has dispersed. Now, therefore, this rejection appears very much in its true form -- insecurity!

No comments: