Our fraying social fabric: time to introspect

Greater Kashmir

Social relationships appear to be undergoing a rapid transition from a close-knit, coherent and intertwined social fabric to an isolated, fragmented and self-centric style of living. Mutual relations are perpetually getting overwhelmed by the rampant use of social media and electronic gadgets leaving little scope for frequent physical interactions, sharing, caring and complementary exchanges. Nowadays people prefer to call, or text on phone using short-messaging or social media services to communicate and seek updates about the welfare of their near and dear ones rather than making a personal visit for a one-to-one interaction. Paucity of time, prevailing circumstances, current social distancing norms as well as widening physical distances play a major role in restraining a personal interaction and taking recourse in virtual exchanges. However, of late it appears that the intensity, intimacy and depth of bonding among relations is gradually dwindling due to a whole lot of inherent and overarching factors.

With constantly rising population, people who were earlier inhabiting selected pockets of villages, towns and cities have over a period of time migrated towards outskirts and suburbs, building new houses and settling away from the hustle and bustle of urban localities. This in turn resulted into widening gaps making it difficult to visit relations too frequently. Ever-increasing traffic woes resulting into painstaking long jams have made it even more cumbersome to travel across city centres. Information technology revolution that enables free video calling and seamless online meetings has considerably minimized the yearning for personal meetings. In spite of having revolutionized digital connectivity, technology can be partly blamed for expanding physical distances and divides. Fiercely competitive times have also made people somewhat self-obsessed spending most of their time either in their own work or other daily domestic chores concerning their families. All this has resulted into a crumbling social fabric and waning inter-personal relations.

In general it has been observed that lack of care and concern for each other, diminishing love and affection in relations is fast turning into a stark reality of our contemporary world. It is a sad thing that unhealthy competition, one-upmanship and ego-clashes are now ruling the roost. There used to be frequent family get-togethers earlier during festivals, weddings and other auspicious occasions, sometimes merely to consult each other while bracing up for any big decisions or changes in their lives but now, people have become more independent and prefer to take all their decisions themselves without consulting others. This might have its own merits as well as demerits. While it ensures self-sufficiency sans any interference, at the same time it broadens the divide between relations and could sometimes lead to bad decisions too. As they say, man is a social animal who ought to have social circles, emotional bonds and community linkages. Sharing and caring, mutual respect, longing and love, coherence and compassion are the hallmarks of human relations that seem to be fast disappearing now into thin air from the realms of our social framework.

One of the major reasons for fractured relationships could also be attributed to unreasonable expectations and unduly judgmental behaviour. While it is quite natural to expect help, empathy and concern from relatives in times of need and distress, it may not be fair to expect an intense involvement of the kin in each and every matter owing to their over-occupation with their livelihood worries and domestic chores. Nevertheless it is quite reasonable to expect a word of appreciation and adoration from your near and dear ones in joyful times of noteworthy achievements and also a word of solidarity and sympathy in times of distress and grief. This is what friends and relations are meant for. It does hurt deep within, when relations turn indifferent, apathetic and unconcerned in such significant moments of one’s life. Mutual relations should be absolutely free from all sorts of bias, ill-will, hatred, jealousy, strife and discord. They should be governed by the principles of love, affection and harmony. We need to give due respect to the elders and shower unconditional and selfless love and affection to the youngsters. Nurturing egos should not gain precedence over valuing the kinship. As the saying goes, “Nurturing his ego, he felt six feet tall, little did he know, pride cometh before the fall.”

In Kashmir there is a saying that “Panenyev chenae manaemet  paygambar” meaning that even prophets are not valued by their own people. Probably this proverb aptly reflects the main cause of discontent among relations in the society. Somehow we tend to ignore, undermine and belittle at times, the achievements, capabilities and calibre of our kith and kin. “Ghar ki murgi” appears “daal barabar” to us and this sows the seeds of disillusionment and distancing among relations. We often ignore and fail to acknowledge and applaud the feats and accolades won by our friends and relatives, thus purposely or unintentionally sending a wrong signal of our apathy and indifference to them. This gets subsequently paid back to us in the same coin at our own turn and the vicious cycle continues. With the passage of time grouse and regret keep piling and the relations continue to progressively get strained. We fail to realize that after all it costs nothing to expend a few words of admiration with a simple intent to enhance the spirit of camaraderie and companionship. Instead we choose to hold on to our big fat ego and thereby antagonize our relations.

Sir Walter Scott has written in his hugely popular novel Guy Mannering that “blood is thicker than water” implying that the family relationships and loyalties lay the strongest foundations of one’s life. In Kashmir we also believe that “rishte gov naar draav soan”; relations like molten gold come out purer after passing through fire. Relations may temporarily become sour but they do not perish. At the end of the day they flourish and stand every test of time. We need to understand the simple fact that life is too short to nurture hatred, jealousy and malice in our hearts. Life could be a lot more enjoyable in the loving company of our well-wishers, friends and relatives. We need not reciprocate indifference and apathy with the like since an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. No matter how low someone stoops we can still maintain our own dignity, and decency in life. Instead of resorting to vengeance if we reciprocate rudeness with courtesy and kindness, apathy with care and graciousness, selfishness with generosity, insensitivity with thoughtfulness and so on, our life would be lot more better.

We can embed ourselves into a strong and rich social fabric by following the basic principle of solidarity through mutual acceptance. In this regard, Moulana Rumi has often been quoted as saying, “non-acceptance of uncertainty leads to fear, its acceptance leads to adventure; non-acceptance of good in others leads to envy, its acceptance leads to inspiration; non-acceptance of things beyond one’s control leads to anger, its acceptance leads to tolerance and non-acceptance of a person with all his infirmities and undesirable traits leads to hatred whereas unconditional acceptance leads to love and affection”. Brooks also argues that “separability amid situatedness requires a covenant rather than a contract among people”. He goes on to differentiate the two as, “People in a contract provide one another services, but people in a covenant delight in offering gifts.” Therefore it is advisable to sustain relations without expecting undue favours from them.

Bottom-line is that people need to embrace tolerance and acceptance and shun fault-finding and rejection for a lasting, amicable relationship and thereby leave a rich legacy behind for our posterity. We need to give people their freedom to think, plan and decide for themselves within the supportive framework of a loving and caring community. Being judgmental about others sows the seeds of discord and hostility in relations. One should neither look down upon others nor think too high or expect too much from them. Accepting people as they are with all their flaws, shortcomings, limitations as well as powers and strengths is the key to a sustainable relationship. Robert Nisbet wrote in “The quest for community” that “the family, religious association and local community are the indispensable supports of one’s belief and conduct.” These associations are what make us autonomous individuals in our relationship with the community we live in alongwith a sense of social solidarity and a passion for the community care. “Without community care, you get not freedom and rights but intolerable loneliness and subjection to demonic fears and passions,” he adds in his treatise.