You were just born, you comprehend nothing except the fact that everything suddenly feels weird. You liked it back in there, it was familiar, it was warm, you never felt hungry, cold or oddly threatened. It might not, as you slowly realize, be that bad after all, for there is a particular someone who’s constantly holding you, comforting you, and is awakened to your service each time you cry to protest the slightest discomfort. Depending on how lucky you are, there might be multiple other people, who take care of everything you might ever need. They become your world and they are going to look after you for a long time to come. It feels great to be constantly nurtured, to have someone to tell your problems to and watch them go away as if by a stroke of magic. That time you put your finger in hot coffee, you were immediately attended to by your mother as you couldn’t stop crying. The other day when you fell off your bike on the way to school, you knew whom to ask for help, and that they would make it go away no matter what. In this period of elongated gestation, you are completely at the mercy of these caregivers and feel warmly sheltered in this congenial place called home.
You find several other people as you grow old, who help you in countless ways to get through this voyage called life. Your teachers at school who introduced you to the world of science, art and literature that you never knew existed, the cricket coach whom you could blindly trust with your ambitions to make it big in sports someday or the college senior who guided you through the challenging course having been in your shoes an year ago. Every time you felt stuck, you found hope in one of these increasing numbers of special and capable people in your life.
You just turned 18 and suddenly by the virtue of an Invisible force called the state law, you have been declared capable of thinking for yourself. It’s exciting to be able to do some things that you weren’t allowed to, the possibilities seem limitless . All of a sudden there is so much potential and so much new is possible. The paradox of choice kicks in and you ask, I can literally do anything I want. What if I make a mistake? Somehow all this does not help you emotionally and mentally transition from the comfort of having a parent to a world where you have to lead yourself without mom and dad to show you the way.
As much as you love your newfound freedom, you are constantly searching for the next source of inspiration, for the next person who could tell you what’s best for you, what works. You are constantly in the search for a parent. Despite living under the illusion that you are an independent person capable of free will, you subconsciously outsource your thought to the booming number of thought leaders, influencers, public Idols and pseudo-parents you find in the society. These people come in all forms. The guru who knows exactly what you have to do to spend a heavenly afterlife, the charismatic leader who tells you that your culture is in danger and you need to take up arms to protect it, the nutrition expert who can write you a ten page long diet chart that is supposed to fix your fat belly and get you laid, or the Instagram model who convinces you that getting a plastic surgery and uploading pictures of your butt and bosom on the internet is a road to success and every little girl should dream to have a body that good looking.
Many a time, these pseudo-parents do not come in a palpable form, they rather manifest themselves in much subtler ways such as public opinion, or to put it more succinctly, in the form of social acceptance. For those guided by this force, society decides what is right for them, it tells them that they should earn more money even if it means having to give up what they love because wealthiness is universally coveted but educating poor kids in the slums is probably not. It teaches young girls to look at their bodies and not feel enough because they’re supposed to be in a certain shape to be desirable. It teaches everyone to document their happiest moments online because otherwise they would be ‘missing out’ and their social worth is proportional to the number of friends and followers they have online.
It could also show up in the form of traditions, the equivalent of ‘peer pressure from the dead’ that tell you what is best based on rules that were created centuries ago but blindly followed by everyone around you and preached by that man at your place of worship who says he can talk to god.
Slowly but surely, these parent-like forces change you into what Ayn Rand would’ve called, a ‘Second-Hander’, a person who does not think for oneself but conforms to the constraints and standards determined by the broad society and the charismatic people in the movies, on the internet, or in the books that everyone is supposed to read.
Immanuel Kant had something to say about this. His words come in reference to a period of great reformation. People started questioning the authority of the church as a moral guiding light for the society. It was an exciting yet scary time for they had to transition from being guided by the holy church in every aspect of their life, to figuring things out by themselves and trusting this experimental method of investigation called science, which by definition said that we do not have all the answers and are limited by our means to observe the universe around us.
“DARE to be wise,” says Kant, quite succinctly telling us that it takes a certain amount of courage to think for yourselves, to walk that path knowing there might not be a way back. To take the road not taken and then live with the consequences of your decision.
On the other end of this story of laziness and cowardice are those who understand this nature of humans very well. Infact, they understand it well enough to capitalize on it. Every business guru, spiritual leader, cult leader or Instagram influencer is someone who capitalizes on the fact that you are a second-hander, a conformist who is either too lazy or too afraid to think for yourself and craves for social acceptance above anything else. The fact that you could not outgrow the need for a parent.
“If we started doing everything from scratch, what would be the point of centuries of wisdom that people who came before us have accumulated on any given subject?” you might ask. After all, today we are able to see so far only because we stand on the shoulders of these giants. The answer to this question could vary from person to person depending on how much ownership they wish to take of their lives before getting overwhelmed. Very quickly you shall find yourself in a balancing act between trying to be an individual and the part of a whole, but a good rule of thumb would be to have at least that one thing in life that you love to do, that you are passionate about and desperately need to be good at no matter what and try to be an original force in that field. After all, every great thinker, inventor, creator was at some point a man or a woman of unborrowed vision, courageous enough to think beyond conventional wisdom and conceive something their peers couldn’t. Their courage and confidence came from within their own spirit. Only when you become your own parent shall you give birth to something truly original, just like your parents did.