CHANGING VALUES AND CULTURE SHOCK
“Kids today have no moral values or sense of culture!” – a very common grievance of parents today whose parents in their time- lamented about their lack of ethics and whose parents in turn complained of their unfavorable attitudes, whose parents again worried about the decline in tradition. This cycle of change in culture, dates back even to times when what we now call ‘our culture’ and ‘our ethics’ were not even formed. It is evident that man has constantly felt the breath of changing values and cultural shock breathing down his neck, following him relentlessly over ages and posing him the same apparent danger that we claim to face today. Many have felt it, seen it, hated it and feared it. We have sung about it over ages and many before me have endeavored to write on this very topic. So, I cannot guarantee to offer you more on this subject than you have already heard before. I can only elaborate on what my predecessors had to say and give you my point of view.
Everything around us is changing. Change -as we maintain- is the side effect of growth: growth, which may be physical, mental, economic, social, or just plain overall development. However, the change that we talk of has a wider connotation and a much greater role to play in our lives than any other kind of transformation. I would rather term change as both the result and the precursor of growth. Growth depends on man’s willingness to change, to take risks, and to dispose of damaging beliefs. The extent of change defines the degree of growth. Therefore, this change in culture or values can be either adverse or favorable. Wasn’t the abolition of Sati and Female Infanticide a cultural shock and a change in values to many? But do we categorize this change as unneeded? Not all change in principles need be uncalled for.
We speak of Indian Culture. What exactly is this Indian culture? Isn’t it true that the values of north Indians differ from the values of south Indians? East from west? One state from another and one city from another? So how can we tell each other to abide by Indian culture if this term is but an ocean of different thoughts, ideas and cultures? We boast of unity in diversity. From where did this diversity arise? The uniqueness of our vastly complex society is the end product of the eagerness of our ancestors to learn more and live better. Our values, which we hold dear today, are an intricate infusion of principles from outsiders – be they traders, explorers or even colonists. India is like a giant tree whose roots have dug deep and far into foreign soils, taking in the nutrients of alien customs and combining them with our own in such complex weaves that they become our own. We grew strong and sprouted new leaves and built a nation on values, which we claim to be our own, not realizing where our roots drew water from. Therefore, while parents instruct us to follow Indian tradition, they are just referring to an assortment of basic ethics and approved code of conduct and decency in their society.
In the south the western clothes are considered immoral, however decent they may be because they are not products of our culture. On the other hand salwar kameezes (however revealing or offensive) are acceptable as they are considered traditional. Isn’t it ironic that these clothes aren’t exactly tra ditional to south India, but in reality they are the attire of Punjabis? So where is the prospect of changing values when we are not sure ourselves of what these values are? When you delve deeper, most of the things, which we identify as traditional, may be seen as vulgar in other societies. The west -which is branded by us as quite lacking in values- may think that our traditional saris with the belly showing, is quite offensive.
Traditional values are changing. We are aping the west and making monkeys of ourselves. While Hollywood is extolling the history of their own people and making movies like ‘Gangs Of New York’, ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ and other epics, Bollywood is busying itself with desperate attempts to make amateur ‘American teen’-like movies and Hollywood flicks. While we concentrate on remixing songs and duplicating English videos, we are slowly stepping away from the path of originality and individuality. But while in the last generation there was just plain following of western principles by the youth, now, there have been greater benefits. The youth today not only learn from the west, but they -like their great ancestors who built this nation- are combining this knowledge with our own culture and now a time has come where the west is aping the east. Punjabi tunes, desi styles and Indian art has hit markets overseas and is making us known to the world. Therefore, while there is change -like I mentioned earlier, it is not all for the worse.
But the youth still yearn for a change in ethics. They demand freedom. India has freedom too, but this freedom is bound by fine threads of cultural restrictions and traditional boundaries. When an Indian goes abroad he is dealt a huge blow from cultural shock. He is not ready for the way of life outside. Indians are brought up a little less independent and a little more disciplined than other countries of the West. However, I do not wish to generalize, as there are Americans and Englishmen who probably have more culture than us and at the same time Indians who have more sense of independency. Nevertheless, when it comes to majority, the west definitely has more freedom. However, this liberation does not come free. You are left with a society, which propagates violence in the name of security, promiscuity in the name of love and vulgarity in the name of art. The youth of today are willing to pay this grave price just to taste a few moments of deliverance.
I have been discussing change in values and culture shock in the same context although the two are quite different. Our change in values may include change in ethics, morals and tradition. But culture shock includes the change in lifestyle itself. It is the confusion one is faced with when he is suddenly exposed to a cultural environment radically different from his own. But this cultural shock needn’t be felt only outside one’s nationality. Changes within one’s own society can cause confusion too. Thus, where there is change in values there is cultural shock. So since these two go hand in hand it is best to discuss them together.
A topic, which is burning the hearts of the so-called conservative side of society, is the failure of the youth today to converse in their mother tongues. I must confess that if I were to write this essay in my mother tongue -Malayalam-1 would not have been able to get across to you half of what I wanted to say. So who is to blame for this? The students, who shun their roots or the parents who put these children in English medium schools? And the more critical question is – what is to be done? Both parents and students need to get their heads straight. The parents must encourage their youth to speak the native languages so that they can keep their national tongues alive. The youth must take pride in their culture. But stopping the teaching of English would be a foolish act. Whatever said and done, English is our secular language. Everything from signposts to ingredients on a cereal box is in English. The Internet, computers, and keyboards are in English. Do you wish to deprive your children from these conveniences? Do we want our citizens to be handicapped in international growth just because we want them to speak like our fathers? Keep the national spirit alive, but don’t hinder development. Otherwise, say goodbye to future Kalpana Chawlas and Arundathi Roys who can do India proud by winning universal acclaim and acceptance.
When we speak of changing values, we not only speak of tradition. Religion and belief have their V. I. P.seats here. Religion is changing. We have come a long way from worshipping the sun and the moon to worshipping human forms. Our conflicting ideals have caused splits within the same faith resulting in groups. Christmas has become more about gifts and Christmas trees and Santa than about the birth of Christ. Eid becomes a time for dressing up and eating plenty instead of spreading peace and universal brotherhood. Diwali is more about the crackers and sweets today than of Vishnu’s victory over Narasimha. With change in religion, God changes. The image of God has been altered over the ages. God has been transformed from a ‘great power’ to a ‘provider in need’ to a ‘reason for hope’ and finally now to ‘a friend’. This is because man changes; and while man changes, his needs and wants change. Thus man changes everything around him, -even God- to suit his new identity. .
So it is evident that where there is growth there is change, and where there is change there is conflict. Who is to be held at fault for this change in values and culture shock? The over enthusiastic parents, who expose their children to too much foreign culture, alienating them from their own traditions? Or the confused youth who throw away their customs and prefer modern ideals? What is to be done? Should we sit back and watch our tree uproot itself and fall to decay? Or should we act and once and stop all development and pull our society down? Some people write to make you think. Some write to make you act. But this essay was written to make you think before you act. Wherever you are hold firm to your ideals. If you are away from your land, then remember who you represent and maintain your traditions. At home keep the national spirit alive while seeking intellectual, social, economic and overall growth. The world and times are changing and values will continue to change and cultural shocks will persist, but it is up to us to decide what it are we wish to change and what it is we would die defending. Jai Hind.