Harshal, aka Grond, is an old friend, who has been a reader of my blog ever since I began blogging. His comments always have a deep insight to them. A cheerful young man, he can hold forth on profound matters including Vipassana meditation, of which he is a passionate votary, and Zen Buddhism among other things. But before you think he is all sombre and serious, let me hasten to add that he also ‘likes to irritate others with my over sized knowledge of useless trivia.’
His blog Grondomania is dormant at the moment, but do check out the origins of his interesting pseudonym here.
I have been asking him to do a guest post for me for ages now and finally, when he came up with a cracker of a piece, it had me sweating for a minute wondering if I could handle it! But when I began reading, it stumped me with its simplicity and profundity at one and the same time. So go on, find out for yourself…
I have no choice in the matter,’ is an oft heard statement uttered in various contexts in varied states of helplessness. While this may be true of that particular circumstance, it certainly doesn’t encompass most of the larger issues of life or the paths our lives can take. We all have choices and more than we can ever imagine. It is when and if we make them, that determines how we shape our lives.
Time was when all we had by way of visual entertainment was whatever the government chose to show on the lone channel of Doordarshan. Or, if you were lucky to have a rich neighbour who could afford a VCR, you could watch a movie VHS rented from the local video cassette parlour. DD2 came into being in 1992, quickly followed by a veritable explosion on the transmission waves, as satellite TV began beaming new channels across the spectrum through the local cablewala into our homes. If you didn’t like what one channel was showing, you simply surfed to the next channel or the next. Over time channel choices became so mind-boggling that today, just about two decades from that small beginning, there are over 500 channels being transmitted across homes in India.
This choice was one of the by-products of the consumerism that came about through the triumvirate of liberalization, privatization, and globalization. The consumerist marketing ideology states, ‘If you don’t like the product, don’t buy it;’ ‘Get it changed if it doesn’t work for you;’ ‘Choose only the items that fit you, not what the salesperson is forcing on you;’ ‘Get a second opinion;’ and so on.
A small choice in itself, channel surfing changed the very outlook on life for an entire generation through the exposure it brought – to international media and culture through television, movies and later internet.It brought about an awakening of sorts and exposed to a range of choices, people started selecting from them. This not only included consumer goods and lifestyle, but also life choices, which had not existed till then. The question in everyone’s mind was, ‘If consumerism allows us to have a choice in deciding what we consume, why can’t the same choice be exercised in our life to make it more rewarding?’ And the answer was a resounding, ‘Of course!’
Earlier when people finished their education, they immediately began looking for a job, and once they got into one, stayed put in it until they retired. They cribbed about it, but it was not about what they were or not ‘getting’ out of the job, (other than the salary at the end of the month).
— Today, they talk of gratification that goes beyond the salary, and want to work in what they are interested in, monetary benefits be damned! Changing careers, giving up careers, experimenting, taking a break – are all increasingly becoming the norm. In short, they are willing to take a chance with life. The numbers are not huge, but certainly on the rise.
Time was when a boy and a girl were brought together and they often met and got to know each other only on their wedding night. If there was no compatibility between the two, who cared? Nobody dared separate the two, the couple themselves never considered it as an option, even if the differences were visible to everyone. They were thus doomed to spend a lifetime bonded to the despair of a bad relationship.
–Towards the end of the last century, the situation had begun to slowly change: Firstly, the two had begun insisting on getting to know each other well enough before tying the knot. And saying ‘No’ had become an option if they felt there might be incompatibility. And walking out from a bad relationship to salvage the rest of their lives was no longer a closed door.
A quarter century ago, when a son rebelled against working in a job of his father’s choosing, or a daughter confidently stood up and demanded an education, it was a matter for discussion and even censure for being rebellious.
–By contrast, today a boy is often deemed a loser by his peers if he chooses to join his father’s business or choice of a job without exploring other options or occupations. A girl opting not to work or take up a career is still not uncommon, but if she chooses to sit at home without educating herself, that is matter of concern for a progressive society.
The world today does not accept people who do not gain exposure, whether it is for personal choice or just for its own sake. And why not, since it makes the person poorer for missing the experience.
I am not implying that making choices is simple. As children we learn digits and letters but need to get trained to make words and numbers out of them; which is why we go to school. Likewise, we know that a plethora of choices exist from complete surrender to total rebellion, but need practice to use them effectively. Put in very simple terms, consumerism and the exposure to the varied information that it brought about was the training that was needed, practicing on TV channels and cars before putting it to use in life.
So what does Henry Ford have to do with all this? In his autobiography, Ford wrote about his famous Model T automobile, ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black’. Later textbooks picked it up as the de facto advertising slogan. Some said that Ford wanted to speed up production and reduce costs by introducing the idea of an assembly line. Supposedly black paint suited the line as it dried the fastest, increasing efficiency. This lack of product range in the early years of modern marketing as compared to the consumption-driven era of today is a case study fiercely discussed in marketing classes across the world – you may run out of energy to select which colour you want to buy, but not out of options to select from.
But the truth about Henry Ford is far from what has been perceived.
Although the production of Model T started in 1908, Ford did not enforce the ‘so long as it is black’ policy till 1914. The idea of black paint drying fastest is also incorrect, as even after 1914 nearly 30 different types of black paint were used simultaneously, instead of just one uniform formulation. The car was available in grey, green, and red, but not black, till 1912. From 1912- 14, the colour was midnight blue with black fenders. Industrious owners changed the colour of their car by repainting it themselves.
Similarly too, the perceived limitations that life and society throw at us may well be nonexistent. Choices always exist about which we might only be unaware of. Often too, we don’t believe we can exercise the option of choosing. All we need is to only be exposed to them, and voila! The choice which is right will automatically be visible to us. All that is left then is to take the risk and grab it. And who knows, by this exposure we may even expand our horizons, bringing us closer to even more choices that enable us to fly!
How about giving flying a shot?
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