What’s your society’s badge of honour?
All societies have value systems…values which citizens aspire to reach. They want to possess all the qualities that are admired in society and live a life considered ideal by the standard of that particular society. The gap between the ideal and the real may be large or it may be small…the point is that there is always an ideal to aspire to and that is what makes a nation what it is…or rather what it wants to be. Good or bad isn’t the critical thing here….because if something is desired it automatically becomes “good.”
From the little I know of the west and if I dare generalise, I think people in the west admire and desire success, talent, money, youth, and they also put a premium on hard work and honesty. They also look up to those who do charitable work and those who are concerned about the environment and animals. If an individual has even a little of the above mentioned attributes, he/she will highlight them…after all, these are the society’s badges of honour. (By clubbing the west into one entity I have been far too simplistic (probably what I wrote applies mostly to America, but this is all I know and I welcome you to add points or correct me).
You might argue that all cultures/societies value these things, but I’m saying it’s the intensity which differs. The premium placed on different values is different in different societies…I am not sure exactly why, but I think perhaps it’s the life cycle of a society.
In India we don’t value those same qualities with an equal intensity…for whatever reasons. So what do we value most in India? Who is the ideal Indian, the Indian that everyone admires, even worships?
Religiosity and spirituality is certainly an attribute that is highly respected, often at the cost of other attributes. Unfortunately religiosity is also a quality that is easy to fake. All one has to do is perform the proper rituals, adhere to fasts, visit temples, give offerings and viola! You are dubbed virtuous! Who cares if the offering to the gods is a few lakhs of black money? Donations matter and a person who donates large amounts to charity is admired and few ask where the money is coming from. And as for the giver, the giving of the tainted money to the poor makes him feel that it’s washed away some of his sin.
So am I saying that honesty and integrity is not valued in our society? Well, if it is why do public officials make it known that they are “flexible?” They do it because any rigid stand will ensure the end of their career. If being “flexible” was a quality he/she had to be ashamed of would the official make it known? The way it is now, he is ashamed only when he is caught being “flexible.” As long as he/she is not caught and it’s just rumours flying around, everything is fine. Those who dare to wear honesty and integrity as their badge of honour (there are plenty of people like this) could well suffer an early demise of their career in public life.
It’s not just politicians and bureaucrats. Industrialists don’t wear their honesty as a badge of honour either, except perhaps the Tatas but people suspect them too. The fact is that many businessmen do not bother to pretend they are honest…they just try and ensure they aren’t caught. And as for many of our professionals, they blatantly buy acres and acres of land and apartments galore, which is fine, as long as they’ve paid their taxes! They don’t mind the rumours…and in drawing room conversations defend their right not to pay taxes.
I am not sure if we wear hard work as a badge of honour either. We Indians work very hard, harder than those in the west, but people seem to admire those who produce results without working hard! For example, at school and college getting good marks without working hard is admired! We also dream of a time when we need not work hard…we admire the results more than the methods.
But what are the other qualities besides religiosity that we as a nation admire?
Culture…you need to have loads of it. A deep knowledge about India, our customs, our literature, proficiency in one’s own regional language (and a few other Indian languages), a smattering of Sanskrit helps too. Having read the great Indian authors is also greatly admired…because this isn’t just knowledge, it’s wisdom too.
Which brings me to another related value – the desire for education and knowledge. All classes may not relate to this value, but I think at least three quarters of India does. But at some level even the poorest of the poor also want education…it is the great Indian dream…it’s just that they don’t have the time or the means.
Those who are already educated aspire to get more educated. The word “highly qualified” is talked of in glowing terms in India, and for boys who are wont to take dowry, it means a higher price at which they can sell themselves. Knowledge of English also falls in this category as does scientific and technical knowledge. In fact so much is this craze for education that minting fake degrees and selling them for a price is big business in India!
But how does this “western” education fit in with the Indian “cultural” education…aren’t they contrary? Not at all, for a man (or woman) to be the ideal Indian he needs to be comfortable in both…he needs to prove that he is well versed in his own culture as well as the modern education.
While austerity is no more an admired quality in India, leading a “pure” life is…by this it means that people who don’t drink, smoke and abstain from pre-marital sex are admired. This is a quality much sought after in prospective brides and grooms.
Success and riches bestow high status on people so success is very important. In fact, money is what success is measured by, like in the west. Gradually we are moving away from the time when caste and family bestowed status or when just a good education (whether Indian or cultural) bestowed status. Today, money is required. Education also brings in the status but a string of degrees + money = Ideal.
Remember I am not saying that is how we are, nor am I saying this is how they are…I am talking of aspirations, that’s all.
Note: All these are my thoughts and feelings based on my personal observations, and are not based on any research. I apologize in advance if I am off the mark.
(The first photo is from dreamstime.com (free photo site) and the second one is by me and copyrighted)