The Darwinian “survival of the fittest” principle has guided the society throughout the human history and the industrial and post industrial man also continues with this spirit. The idea of “Survival of the fittest” springs from “struggle for existence” and leads to what we call “competition”, which more often than not, is expressed through a “killer’s instinct.” Life boils down to a heartless “race”, where everybody is focused on his or her self interest with absolute disregard for others’ interest and plight. See the unnecessary and insane honking on the Indian roads by the car owners or even auto rickshaw drivers, breaking the red lights and violating traffic rules, often brazenly cornering the cycle riders or people walking on foot, you won’t need to understand the meaning of utter selfishness with brazen disregard of what happens to others! It is not confined to roads; it has seeped into other arenas of life as well. There is no exaggeration in the statement when we just look around- the way politicians mobilize votes, the way business mobilizes funds, the way goons dominate our neighbourhood and even the way intellectuals and media spread and scrutinize information and take sides. Everybody is just guided by “killer’s interest”, success at any cost with total disregard for the concern of others. That is the “animal instinct” that has gone wild.
School children die in India because somebody who is driving their van is busy on mobile while driving, not listening at all to the cries of children to stop while crossing an unmanned railway gate. Speeding cars driven by underage children of the rich people every now and then trampling people on the road has become so frequent (India claims to take life of largest number of lives on road. A legislature in one of the states of India rapes a minor seeking job and his men and allegedly police kill her father when he tried to complain. It becomes uglier when rapists brutally kill the rape victim as happened in Kathua, Surat or Lukhnow. In a posh school in Delhi a small child is brutally killed in the washroom. The times are so uncertain— boss in your office, a teacher in a university or a school, doctors in hospital, your domestic help or your cab driver and even your friends can turn a predator. The lowest of the dirt can be seen in a father raping his daughter or a spiritual Guru doing the same to his devotees. Where is the bottom line? Predators all around, life has become so uncertain with cheating, deceit, indifference, brazen and unscrupulous selfishness or even frustration to compete out others in the race! The western societies have also their fair share of “selfishness” and “frustration” driven violence, cheating and heartbreaks! Success at any cost, no matter what, and success with the most mundane meaning!
We are made to understand that what matters is “success” at any cost and success is defined in a very stereo typed style- a fat cheque as salary, a fat bank balance, a big house, a big car and affording costly consumer goods, not just for our own satisfaction but also to evoke envy and inferiority complex among the so called ordinary or common man around. The brazen display of power and wealth is interpreted as success, those who love and care are the weakest people, those who stand against it are fools or not talented. Killer’s instinct and focus on self interest is the only aspiration of everybody right from a politician to a man in the street. Positive thinking is always understood in terms of mundane success- think big, never say die, inflict pain on self and others, but succeed any way. Success has become an all pervading disease, even if it is acquired by cheating, bloodshed and violence, breaking a thousand hearts and demolishing all civilized norms and conventions! Retaining higher position in the university propels a Vice Chancellor to say that patriotism can be best promoted by displaying tanks in the university premises! Success at any cost! Where is the bottom line and who is to be blamed? Here everybody’s hands are blood stained—we have all become predators!
Adam Smith, the father of modern economics rightly said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.” But this needs to be seen critically. Although self interest is the propelling force behind all our activities, animal instincts should not be allowed to go berserk in a civilized human society. This is why we have rules, conventions and laws. They are necessary. But more important is that we respect these provisions. Our instincts are natural. But the natural instincts should not control our activities, rather we should control them. The extension of self interest is greed and natural instincts may be negative such as anger. Hypocrisy is ingrained in civilized societies. “ If a cat does something, we call it instinct; if we do the same thing, for the same reason, we call it intelligence. Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit.”
The best thing to learn today is not to quit the search for success. It is to stand for values in whatever we do, success would come as a natural corollary. That’s why Albert Einstein said, “”Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”Mahatma Gandhi rightly said that the quality of success depends on the means adopted for it. We should not be blind in the pursuit in self interest. Success without heart and soul for others is eventually empty. In fact the caution of Franklin D. Roosevelt in this regard is worth remembering, “Self-interest is the enemy of all true affection. If we indulge too much in self interest, we lose sight of what happens to others around us. If we care for others, self interest does not lead to brazenness and indifference. In a cultured society guilt and criminality needs to be condemned and innocent people need to be helped not only by law but the social controls as well. Social controls happen because of our attitude of live and let live and help our fellow human beings.
Adam Smith in this regard had a lot to say. He said, “The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires. The slightest observation, however, might satisfy him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed mind may be equally calm, equally cheerful, and equally contented. Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others: but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquillity of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice.”
“Competition” and “killer’s instincts” should not be taken as weapons to succeed without caution. The apparent meaning of these words may be a dangerous thing to adopt. Although some people would like to follow the dictum that “in love and war” everything is fair, it is not so. Killer’s instinct means that we have an intense passion to continue in the pursuit of our goals despite odds. It does not mean being unethical. Germaine Grear rightly says, “Developing the muscles of the soul demands no competitive spirit, no killer instinct, although it may erect pain barriers that the spiritual athlete must crash through.” Even for the sports arena killer’s instinct needs to be interpreted with caution. Richard Lerner points out, “Whether hunting is right or wrong, a spiritual experience, or an outlet for the killer instinct, one thing it is not is a sport.” That’s it!
We need to reconsider the meaning of success, competition and killer’s instinct. Or else we would only rejoice our existence as predators in our pretty hells called success in our language. Success is empty without love, care and service to humanity. If we do so life would much better! How much time humanity would take to choose a right meaning of success depends on our ability to learn and grow. Education seems to be the only ladder. But this needs an open mind and courage to choose the good path, even if the current success Gurus say the contrary.
Nothing can be better guide to steer our education system to a right path to make a responsible and moral citizenry than what Abraham Lincoln suggests. Abraham Lincoln in a letter to the teacher to his son wrote:
“So dear Teacher, will you please take him by his hand and teach him things he will have to know, teaching him – but gently, if you can.
Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend.
He will have to know that all men are not just, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero, that for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader.
Teach him if you can that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found.
In school, teacher, it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to learn how to gracefully lose, and enjoy winning when he does win.
Teach him to be gentle with people, tough with tough people. Steer him away from envy if you can and teach him the secret of quiet laughter.
Teach him if you can – how to laugh when he is sad, teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him there can be glory in failure and despair in success. Teach him to scoff at cynics.
Teach him if you can the wonders of books, but also give time to ponder the extreme mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill.
Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if every one tell him they are wrong.
Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone else is doing it. Teach him to listen to every one, but teach him also to filters all that he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.
Teach him to sell his talents and brains to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul.
Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patient to be brave. Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind, in God.
This is the order, teacher but see what best you can do. He is such a nice little boy and he is my son.”