Monday, May 8, 2017

Soc it!

Socially Acceptable Emotional Display - I heard that in a video today. And it wasn't about something extreme like falling on the ground and beating it with your fists, it was for simple things like being loving, crying or even joyous.

I remember this trek I did years ago, along the Niligiri range. It was organized by the YHAI and as is typical, consisted of a guide leading a group of about 20 or 30 people. In one of the camps where we halted for the night, there was this session where we all sat around in a circle and a few displayed their talents. This one guy recited a moving poetic piece from a movie, one that I was an ardent admirer of. It never failed to create a lump in my throat. So, as he recited it, I closed my eyes and I found myself smiling. When I opened my eyes, mid way, there was this other guy who pointed at me and said something to the effect of 'You better stop before something overcomes this girl". He said it in the most mocking, sexist way possible; I knew what he meant. It was like I was so impressed, I'd jump on the fellow and tear his clothes off. It was one of the most powerful examples of shaming an emotional response that I'd ever experienced.

When I heard the phrase 'Socially Acceptable Emotional Display', I was reminded of that night when I came back to the ground with a thud. The guy was obviously a jerk. He probably subscribed to the 'boys don't cry' creed. But he succeeded in making me self-conscious. I became cautious about the degree of my response to people. I closed up more.

Now, I think I'm way more open. I went through a period best described as a personal crusade, a mission that focused on building my self-respect grain by grain, and in this process, I learnt to be more of who I am. But it still falls short by leap and bounds.

And that's what repression does- it makes you less of who you are. It's why I'm so horrified by the social norms we have. I touched on this on a post I wrote earlier about dignity, but in a light hearted 'cheeky' manner. This is a more serious look.

As a child, say until 4-8 years of age, there's very little we can do wrong. We can throw our bodies into the air in exuberance, run in circles when we feel energized, jump in excitement, mess up our clothes in play, pretty much use our bodies as tools of expression. Once that age bracket passes, we start cuing in socially- by picking up what the norm is, from disapproval, judgement, shaming, advice, admonishment...we start learning to 'act our age'.

I think the key word in that phrase is 'act'. ACT! It isn't 'be' your age, it's 'act' it. Isn't language such a powerful indicator sometimes? I'm blown away by the word and all its implications. Act.

As a female, as an adult, as an Indian, I am familiar with repression. If you envision the culture here as a stack, then repression is a layer that glues every layer to the other. It is an indoctrination that is  so seamlessly, thoughtlessly transferred to our psyches. "You should not" becomes "I can not."

I can't remember the last time I ran outdoors. Not jogging or training-for-a-marathon running. The kind of running that you do because you want to. Just a headlong rush at the end of which you clutch your tummy and pant. I don't think the desire to do things like that reduces with age; I think we say 'no' so many times, it doesn't make itself heard anymore.

I would understand if it were only the inconveniencing others kinda stuff- like shouting in a movie theater because you feel like it. But it isn't. It's the harmless stuff that is just pure expression and communication, that troubles no one.

I remember this video I saw online of a man playing a musical instrument in a subway. It was a catchy tune that gathered a crowd. A little girl suddenly stepped forward and started dancing. Slowly, one by one, awkwardly, people joined in, just moving their bodies to the music. Some of them let loose, many were so self-conscious - you could see how hard they were trying to just do it. Many others stood in the sidelines, arms crossed. It was like the child, who didn't have to follow the rules, had to lead these adults into something so natural. I'm sure no one would have danced if she hadn't.

I can envision this clearly- a tribal village. A cloudy, cool evening. A man darts into this hut and fetches his drum. Boom-bada-bada-boom. He jumps about, creating music that gets the heart to beat faster. People jump up, they smile and whoop as they pump their arms and legs into the air. Men with butts bouncing, women with breasts swaying, children with hair falling over their eyes. No one's thinking about anything except the sheer enjoyment of their vigor, their power, their freedom to move, resonating with the beat of the drums.

What a study in contrast! So this is what civilization has done to us. It didn't stop where it should have. It kept going until we made invisible prisons for ourselves. And now, with overpopulation and smart phone addiction. no one barely moves anymore, not even the kids.

Why do I keep going on and on about this? Why don't I just move to some remote country farm, run through a field, roll down a hill, jump headlong into a stream and sing off-key at the skies to my heart's content? I could. But it disturbs me. I think humanity is harming itself in a way that very few are really talking about, putting aside our efforts at self-destruction through environmental means for a moment. The devil within, to be dramatic. I think I want freedom to mean what it does. I want the difference between 'childish' and 'child-like' to be clear. I want the relationship between human connection and physical communication to be acknowledged.

I want to see a woman to sit with legs splayed out and not be considered uncouth, unladylike. I want to see a guy splash into a rain puddle and giggle with delight without being thought soft in the head. I want to see a group of adults play at catching each other in the park without being labeled juvenile. I want freedom to be visible, tangible, physical, real. Oh, and for no reason at all, I'd like to have the word 'social' struck from the English language. I think we've had just about enough of it.

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