It is often difficult for us to draw the line between me and mine. We feel and act about certain things and people very much like we feel and act about ourselves. Our fame, our children and our work may be as dear to us as our bodies, and arouse the same feelings of pride, or the same acts of reprisal if attacked. In its widest possible sense, a man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his: not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, and his lands and bank accounts. The ‘possession’ of all of these things give him similar emotions. If they wax and prosper, he feels triumphant; if they wane and dwindle (or die away), he feels depressed – though not necessarily to the same degree for each person or thing. The body is an integral part of the material self within each of us, and certain parts of the body seem more intimately ours than the rest. Our immediate family too is a part of our self; when any member dies, we lose a part of us. A man’s social self is the recognition that he gets from his mates. We are not only gregarious animals, liking to be in the sight of our fellows, but we also have an innate propensity to get ourselves noticed - favorably of course - by our kind. If no one turned round when we entered, answered when we spoke or minded what we did, and instead acted as if we were non-existing things, a deep despair, even rage, would well up in us.
Inherently, innately we know when we are in balance. Of course we will have our ups and downs; we will be nice and mean, kind and cruel, or generous and stingy. But sometimes we can be fooled into thinking, either from our own experiences or from other people’s perceptions, that we are just one-sided. We can become falsely proud, hiding our internal shame, or act as if shamed, hiding our internal pride. The moment we see only one side of ourselves, we become vulnerable. Fortunately, Nature throws up events to help us see both sides and to keep them balanced. While our mind maintains an inherent balance, our awareness sometimes misinterprets and overlooks it. What took maybe years or decades to build can be destroyed overnight. It is wiser to pursue sustainable achievement by maintaining a balanced orientation. Otherwise we may have to hide behind ‘celebrity walls’ or live in secluded locations to prevent the world from seeing the other side that we innately know is there. As Nietzsche said, if you can own your hero and your villain, your saint and your sinner - your two sides – equally, you do not need Nature to get you back into balance. Those who cannot govern themselves attract events that then govern them. Do not be fooled by one-sided people. When you meet somebody that you look up to, you should know that you are probably being blind to his downsides. And do not be fooled by the mirror. See both the sides within yourself also. When I looked honestly and fully, I discovered that I had both the good and the bad within. I had been kind and cruel, generous and stingy, open and closed, considerate and inconsiderate, honest and dishonest, and sweet and bitter. There are as many social selves of a person as there are individuals who carry an image of him in their mind. He may show different sides of himself to different groups of individuals. Many a youth who is demure before his parents and teachers, swears like a pirate when among his friends. We parents do not show ourselves to our children as we do to our club companions, and behave very differently with our employers as compared to our intimate friends. It is common to hear people discriminate between their different selves. For example – ‘As a man I pity you, but as an official I must show you no mercy; as a politician I regard him as an ally, but as a moralist I loathe him’. What may be called ‘club opinion’ is one of the strongest social forces - the thief must not steal from other fellow thieves; the gambler must pay his gambling debts (though he pays no other debts to this world). The code of honour of fashionable society is full of permissions as well as vetoes - you must not lie in general, but you may lie as much as you please if asked about your relations with a lady; you must accept a challenge from an equal, but if challenged by an inferior you may scornfully ignore him.
Shame is associated with the loss of respect from others and the eradication of self-respect. It even prohibits intimacy with God, because we feel unworthy. Unlike guilt, which is resolved by confession and repentance, shame becomes an identity. Shame torments you internally through your conscience and externally through condemnation by others. Shame moves into your life and establishes a base, resulting in what some psychologists call a ‘shame-based’ personality - meaning that every facet of your person is affected by the poison of shame. In the final analysis, it matters not how much fame, fortune or success we achieve. The human condition remains the same, no matter who we are, where we live, what our economic and social status is, whether we are male or female, or what our religious preferences happen to be. We need to learn to cultivate endurance and indifference to both fame and shame. Only then will no one be able to hurt us. Only then will we truly be in balance.
Human suffering is a state of mind, resulting from ignorance and lack of understanding. When spiritual understanding is lacking we resort to addictive behaviour, such as drug use, alcohol, gambling, smoking, drunk driving, lying and other risky habits and behaviour, to fill the void that we feel inside. Our immediate circle of companions is then limited to mostly other ‘wounded’ creatures that we hold dear, because of our shared pain. The common thread that holds us together also keeps us stuck in dysfunctional behaviour, perpetuating a cycle of even more pain and suffering.
Dr. Rajesh Bhola is President of Spastic Society of Gurgaon and is working for the cause of children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org