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Updated: February 25, 2013 16:18 IST

I, me, my attitude

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In a competition-driven era, the struggle for survival leads to aggression.

Prerna’s aunt was stunned when her niece responded to her request for a glass of water with, “The jug and glass are on the table. I am very tired. Can’t you get it yourself?”

Perhaps the biggest change of the last decade has been our attitude to ourselves. In the last few years, we have learnt to put our own interest and convenience above everything else.

As the world grew into an aggressive, competitive and unscrupulous marketplace, people adopted certain strategies and attitudes for survival and self-preservation. However, as these strategies proved successful, self-interest gained over other considerations and people began to apply them indiscriminately across the spectrum of roles they played in life. The result is an unprecedented erosion in values which is leading to aggression, alienation and social unrest.

Many young people apply the ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ principle to every action and decision, though this consumerist mantra is meant to be used only in market and career-related issues and only to protect oneself from unprincipled market practices.

So, while it is ok to say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands, it is not ok to refuse genuine requests for help. But we often end up doing just that. In the process we not only forget the basic courtesies we need to extend to one another, but we also overlook our responsibilities.

When Supriya spilled a bottle full of water on the floor outside her lecture room, her friend suggested she call the ayah to clean up. But Supriya shrugged, “Not my job.”

Daljit tossed an empty juice carton away after use and his friend protested, “Dude, use the dust bin.” Daljit’s answer was a casual, “Let’s give the sweepers some work, man.”

By refusing to even acknowledge their responsibility, Supriya and Daljit were actually limiting their own growth. Real personal and career growth is possible only when you are ready to take on more, not when you are withdrawing into a boundary.

The ‘I-don’t-care attitude’ crumples when it falls victim to another person’s lack of care. We then take recourse to our rights. We may not remember our responsibilities, but do we ever forget our rights?

“Don’t we have a right to a clean toilet, at least?” demanded Shabana, complaining of the terrible state of toilets in her hostel. “We pay a fat fee. We are entitled to service, but the ayahs never clean the place.” Of course you must have clean toilets. But remember that the responsibility of ensuring clean toilets rests not only with cleaners but also with users.

When you weave a cocoon of rights, entitlements and privileges around yourself, you often fail to look beyond your nose. Haresh, who was in the fourth year of college, was asked what he wanted to do next. “Job,” he said confidently. “I want to work for XYZ.” Haresh named India’s best known company in his field. “But what if India’s best company does not have a job for you?” Haresh was stumped. He had not thought of that. We have grown up having our own way and expect to have it all the time.

Go-getter attitude

But though our aspiration has skyrocketed — we want wealth, recognition and success, and double quick — we are not ready to work to accomplish them. With physical comfort becoming the measuring stick of material progress, the concept of hard work has been pushed out of our mental horizon.

So, if you don’t get your way, you try to buy your way through. Everything, we think, carries a price tag.

For Aaron, at least, that was true. Aaron did not panic on discovering that he did not have the attendance percentage he needed to appear for the final examination. Instead, he went looking for the penalty fee that would buy him the eligibility. The corporatisation of all institutions has only strengthened these attitudes.

Many young people believe that the only things one needs to get along in this world are money and attitude. “If you could not afford my tastes, why did you have me in the first place?” Poonam asked her father, when he disapproved of her shopping sprees. Malls, multiplexes and mobiles were her lifeline. “Holding a mobile for more than two years is stupid,” thinks her college mate Melvin.

But while money can take you to the latest fast food joint and thence to the best hospital for cutting-edge treatment, it cannot guarantee sound health.

When you start working, you will often hear of work-life balance. You will learn that you must prioritise between career and home, professional and personal life to optimise your well being. And this can happen only when you learn to manage time and stress. But, the fact of the matter is that real balance in work-life and personal life happens organically when your approach to both — and indeed, life itself — is driven by universal human values.

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