Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Individuality and the Poor Man's Culture

Ok, hands up all of you who've ever received this kind of encouragement from parents or teachers. I get the feeling somehow that this might be more socially divisive than we realise. Meaning it's dependent on the kind of society we grow up and live in.

From what I see of young people around me, I'd say practically none have ever been actively fed on an idea like this. In fact, I'll stick my neck out to claim that a clean 100% Mizo parents swear by the go with the flow school of parenting. Case in point - many years ago, our Sunday School dept teachers had made plans to spend a day out together on a picnic. But on the morning of D day, someone in the church community died and some of us hastily met to decide whether to cancel or go ahead with our plans. I hadn't been terribly enthusiastic about the outing anyway and it seemed quite wrong to go goofing off when there was a funeral of a fellow church member to attend. But out of around 25 people, only three or four opted to cancel, and the rest all went off picnicking. One said later that he'd gone despite qualms about it because his parents had always drummed into him the line that in crunch situations, he should always go with the majority. The soft, safe option that many parents take pains to teach their children.

It's a different story when you watch children in more affluent societies. Like with the American Idol no-hopers. They bellow horribly like landlocked water buffalos deprived of H2O on a hot day but swear that their parents, family et al have always told them they're wonderful, super talented and unique. And they believe the hype so completely, they can't take the truth that they can't sing to save even one of a cat's nine lives.

Parents in affluent societies where career choices are as numerous as the sand tell their children they can be anything they want. Try out even the quirkiest job they can think of. After all, there's easy money everywhere. In India though, parents expect their kids to be doctors or engineers. That's where the moolah is, alongwith public respect and recognition. In Mizoram, parents want their kids to hold government jobs, play active roles in the church and stay out of trouble. Trouble being everything from crime and jail to holding opinions that are too radical and unpopular, sticking out your head too much and rocking the boat. With the fairer sex especially, you're expected to hold your head down and never let on you have a higher IQ than all your bumpkin beaus put together. Shame, girl, do you want to frighten off all prospective husbands and remain a lonely spinster forever?!

Of course, times change. As social communities gradually move up the scale in terms of economic prosperity, public opinions also slowly evolve. But a paradigm shift is an excruciatingly s-l-o-w process. Which is why I don't think we'll see Mizo parents and teachers encouraging individuality in their young ones just yet. Instead all we can expect to see are more run of the mill products who do everything that everyone else does, never rock the safe boat, always live respectably within a marginalised circle and never ever venture to even flutter their wings outside the box. Like yours truly here. Sigh.


  1. J, voin kan topic discuss tak mai i rawn post a, chhiar belh tur, ngaihtuahna ti thui si i ziak hi ka van lawm em. Mahni ir awm chhuak a ngaihtuahna leh ka kal kal ti ngam hi kan awm manglo a, kan hnam rilru put hmang "nghet lo" kan tih fo pawh hi hetiang vang te hi a ni thei ang em?

    Individualism anga kan kal luttuk chuan society anga kan ngaihhlut tam tak hi a bo si ang em?

    Pu Lalmanzuala lehkhabu ziah a kan society sawiselna "dul dul" hi kan bansan a hun kan ti tan tawh a ni lo maw?

    zawhna hlir a ni. Thanks,

  2. Khawnge tiang thil in lo discuss a? Heng vel hi chu hmanni ka thiante SCERT a thawk ka damdawiin chhuak min rawn tlawh te nen kan sawi nasa a. Nia, i rawn sawi rilru "nghet lo", rilru bul bal nei lo kan tih ang chi hi mahni a thil ngaihtuah kan tihthran loh vang hi a ni te kan tia. Aw, "dul dul" ( a saptawngin herd mentality) hi chu kan paih then hi chu a ngai tawh chiang alawm. Hmasawn zel kan tum anih ngat phei chuan.

    Chuan nia, engkim mai hi pros and cons a nei vek a, individualism pawh hi a kal sual ve thei tlat. Tah hi chuan mihring pangai chuan chin tawk/awm tawk kan hre tlangpui a, danger point a awm ve thei tih hriat tel a ngai dawn ta ni.

    Zawhna dang a awm em? Haha ka fin hmel ve fu mai a! :P

  3. Thawhpui te nen mawle, titi tluangtlam kan sawi a, "Aizawl Veng lian tak pakhatah chuan thlan lai mi 5 chauh an chhuak e" tih thu atanga kan sawi kai a ni, Mi hi kan in ngaisang lo tawn a, aia upa zahna a bo zel e- tih thu atanga sawi chhuah a ni e. Zawhna a tam a, thningpui in pah a sawiho chi a ni e, lolz

  4. I read in Tinkle today (of all things) that sheep flock together because their herd instinct makes them feel safe and that they blindly follow the leader wherever he/she goes. "Silly as it may seem, the herd instinct keep many a defenseless sheep safe". In some ways we are like sheep. And it is that same herd instinct that makes us feel defenseless and vulnerable when we are outside the defined borders of society, because life inside the herd is the only life we’ve ever known. Crossing a few borders here and there never hurt anyone.

    Completely agree with the Mizo community thing. Everything is either black or white - good or bad. Isn't it time we have a few in-betweens?

  5. ambkins, you take the words right out of my mouth. And more concisely than I could ever manage too. The herd instinct - the play it safe instinct. Tsk tsk. But do you not agree with my argument here that it's generally only an affluent culture that can afford to allow free play with individualism?

    vana, aia upa zahna bo tih ang chi te hi chu ka u sawi dan takah these are signs of a culture at a crossroad. The old giving way to the new. Heng poh hausakna leh changkanna rah zel..

  6. Well... when you are affluent you can afford to take risks. A few failed projects here and there? No worries, daddy will bail you out with his millions. A string of unsuccessful businesses? There's always the old trust fund to fall back on.
    But if you come from a not so affluent family and a single mistake can ruin your entire family, risks are something that are best avoided. Go along the well trodden path.

    That's me, voicing my opinions from inside the herd.

  7. You know, I never thought of how ndividualistic I am, I'm probably one of a set of millions too.
    We Mizos do have a problem with thinking our own thoughts and forming our own opinions. I asked a colleague why suddenly every kid I come across was getting his/her education in expensive private schools. Whatever happened to good, inexpensive schools like Mary Mount School etc? And she gave me a simple explanation, the herd mentality. Expensive private schools are the in thing nowadays. That's why my non-mizo friend told me all Mizo girls look alike, with long, straight hair and same dress codes. Ouch.

  8. I think the individuality debate can be taken to parenting in general, be it with Mizos or Gujjus.. Expectations always hover around the doctors, engineers creed and individuality-- even if encouraged at a very young age, is systematically thwarted once a girl approaches puberty and when a boy approaches class 10..

  9. ambiepie, it's easy to figure out when you take a case in isolation. Money wins out every time. It becomes a bit more complex though when you talking about an entire community/society or culture, methinks.

    dear mother diary (is that cute or what huh?), yes I think it all begins with education especially at the primary level because your formative years and experiences are what eventually shape you and your mindset in life. I've noticed Mizo men have a problem with women who have strong opinions of their own even on online forums where you might expect everyone to be well-educated and fairly progressive in their way of thinking. Instead they tend to gravitate towards females who come up with silly remarks and giggle insanely. Go figure!

  10. Gauri, yes that's why I think this whole dare to be different thing rests on the affluence of a given society. Mizos or Gujjus, we're all still citizens of a Third World country so obviously we don't have the luxury of indulging our innate singularities in society at large. And to a large extent, people in wealthier societies are also taught and expected to conform to social rules and norms (remember Holden Caulfield's biggest grouch against adults in Catcher in the Rye?) but on the whole, their individuality isn't hushed out.

  11. yes, u r right.. the need to confirm to rules is more pronounced in classes that have to slog to reach a certain level than those who get a set business ready in a platter.. and for this class too, it's a constant race to 'keep up' with the brands, designer jewellery, their social status.. i knew a person who avoided buying earrings from the street and never travelled in a bus or auto.. may be i am vague.. i hope u get what i mean.. and Holden... how can i forget this brilliant character.. the book is a fantastic case-study of a rebellious but confused, good-hearted soul..

  12. We grow up in a society which looks at unordinary unordinarily.. (hehe.. Couldn't resist that!). We were taught to be more like others.. rual pawllo nih kan hlauh vangin.. I guess its just a part of our culture which is difficult to abandon..

  13. ...sidestepping the debate on what's right and what's not, I like the pic you put up to dive into the topic...

    wonder how many strands(?) of thought can emerge from this one visual.. ?!?

  14. Gauri, yeah I guess every social class has its pros and cons. Like while we're cribbing here about ours, the one you're talking about has its nasty side too - like the keeping-up-with-the Jones thing, the snobbery and one-upmanship etc. Holden sees it all pretty well.

    red, the stick-with-the-herd teaching is not just part of our culture. It's part of every community's culture originally, I suspect. They just got richer and that's when they started trying out their wings and doing their own thing until a few extremists morphed into iconoclasts and gave individuality a bad name.

  15. Yeah, tinks, it's turning into quite a debate piece. What other strand(s) of thought come to your mind besides this?

  16. blink... blonk... blank´.. :)

    sorry my attention span on any topic has come down to 5 minutes, no reruns.. :)
    so i have to go back in time to flush out the thoughts (original ones)...

  17. Hey, why don't you follow my example - jump out of the box and become a wandering gypsy like me? [lol].

  18. mesjay, you have guts and gumption and a dogged spirit that helps you stick to your decisions and I salute you! But my family situation dictates I stay home and take care of my sister..

    tinks, think, man, think. I know you have amazing little grey cells. Puleeze don't let married life and the accompanying dal/sabji yum yum every day shut them down.

  19. My dear Calliopia,

    Do not carry the individual thing too far. The best way to destroy society is to hype and glorify the individual thing. To conform? Surely no! But Rebel without a Cause? Be careful. You may end up wearing stone-washed ripped jeans, imagining that's the way to be poor. The Marlboro Man died of cancer, did you know?

    Having been a teacher and student of culture for the past 40 years, since I heard and saw the hippies wearing flowers in their hair, I'm cautious. We're unique, that's nice. But do we have to express our individuality by buying stuff?

    Warm regards,
    - Joe.

  20. Joe, thanks for dropping by. Hey, I'm not trying to carry the individual thing too far. I know there's a thin red line between conformism, establishmentism and buckling down to the system and its other extreme of iconoclasm, nihilism and eventual anarchy. But I also think there's a happy in-between which can be safely lived out without rocking the balance.

    About the buying stuff, I gather you mean without selling out our culture and values. Hmmm I'm for picking and choosing the best of varying cultures and dropping the negatives that are in each.

  21. Methinks having a critical position on the way our cultural locations hot-wire us would be the most we can do-your closing lines being most telling of this. This would hopefully sensitize us on how we configure ourselves as part of a wider community (conformity) or within ourselves (individualism) while conscious that all such positions are fraught and freighted.

  22. Dear Professor,

    Is "establishmentism" a legit word? Or you cooked it up - momo style - in your new found charm to be different? :) --> i know the momo reference might sound like i am trying to club you with a certain set, but believe me, its just cos they are mouth-watering delicious and i get to have none of it in this foren land

    Oh btw, I hate folks who read style as ishtyle - just to be different :) --> same for foren :)

    and i did get my thought back.. if only for a meagre fünf minuten.. the pic on top reminds me of this zebra fella in madagascar - who though he was different... but his best pal couldn't make him out in the sea of zebras...

    so my final word.. individuality is fine, as long as its not imposed... otherwise it becomes fake... howzaat? :)

  23. .. and there seems to be a bug with your "choose profile" option when posting comments.. (or is it just me?)
    each time, 1st time i select google, it says cannot be posted. then i select the blank line after choose profile and voila, there it is, hanging like a carrot (ok wrong analogy... ) .. the 5 mins are over..

  24. and by joe (not the one who commentated here), i couldn't - for the life of me - decipher one word of what the lugubrious philo means!!!
    (critical positions.. cultural locations... duhhhh... i'm lost!!)

    no really... i must be getting from dumb to dumber? !!

  25. Good thinking, philo, although it seems like most times some cultures think their own is so perfect they can't see any good in importing a few harmless customs from another. Like the anti-V-Day antics by some extremist outfits (invariably religious ones) in various parts of the world.

  26. tinks, sounds to me like you're ripe and ready for the Autobahns again :P And don't worry, in a sea of zebras you'd definitely stick out like a Madagascar primate!

    Yes, believe it or not, establishmentism is legit alright. Check it out on It's the synonym of establishmentarianism, apparently. I knew there had to be some word for the opposite of anti-establishment so I ran it in the Thesaurus section of, and bingo, another ism.

    I get the same problem with the chosen profile thing. But it's instantly solved as soon as I sign in to blogger on the top right of the page.

    Leave Philo be. He has a mind-boggling way with words, besides which as another newly-wed, you two should be exchanging notes and generally sticking up for the other!

    Oh and ps, how might individuality be imposed on others in the first place?

  27. some of the most culture defying people i have known are mizos. go figure, huh?

  28. And some of the most culturally bigoted people I know are Mizos too.

  29. Its 11pm and as much as I'm tempted to try and give my humble opinions on this topic, let me refrain for now but just add a little note, on the lighter side, on the motivational picture attachment...there's nothing different about that pencil in focus except that its upside-down

  30. Well, it's not 11 pm now so do give us your best shot. As for the pencil above, it's not positioned like the others and that's what makes it different!

  31. Stiil after 11pm but let me just sort of reinforce my previous comment
    (Couldnt paste the pic here)

  32. Touchè. Good one there Op, yeah I think that's what Joe and co. have been talking about.

  33. 0011hrs...lets me rack my flea-brained brain- Silence is golden but the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.....
    Yes we can crib, fret and fume our impatience to the rejection of being even-so-slightly out of line in our cocooned society

    I'm, however taking a cowardly neural stand on this issue.Why? becos, I really dont know which is better? To accept that ours(with all its flaws and uptightness)is still one of the best societies to grow up in OR to embrace a new world philosophy that we should be open to influences from other cultures (which would soon translate into ethnic dilution)

    To balance the two productively for a society so delicately poised such as ours.....would be no less than a miracle

    (Whew!I dont believe myself)

  34. I don't believe you either lol. Seriously Op, I can't believe you're politically incorrect enough to still be talking so glibly online about something as volatile as "ethnic dilution" when just a few years ago, the word ethnic (followed by the word cleansing) got such bad press everywhere.

    And you know what, you may not have realised this before but the female of the species of any given culture don't care very much about the issue of cultural purity. That's the lookout of the male of the species, you see. You must've heard of sons dying and daughters surviving but people going, "Alas, the family line has died out." With that kind of thinking, is it any wonder that we females of the species, who are apparently not pure-blooded enough to carry on the family name and genes, couldn't give two hoots about ethnicity, racial purity, lineage or other male-centric concerns?

    About the multiculture vs monoculture thing, check this out