My words, my world…
On Saturday mornings, I drop my daughter to her dance class and then walk in a park nearby. I love that place. It has a jogging track, nice benches to sit around, a mini playground for kids and even an outdoor gym. On one such Saturday, after dropping my daughter, I was enjoying my walk in this park. Suddenly, a young fellow, maybe in his thirties, zoomed past me and caught my attention. He was wearing expensive branded shoes, cool skull-candy headphones connected to a jazzy smartphone, a Fitbit on his wrist and last not least, boxer shorts from Jockey with USA written all over them. I would never wear boxer shorts for outdoor strolls or jogs. After all, “Log Kya Kahenge”? But there he was, jogging in boxer shorts and in a state of bliss.
In many movies or books or teleserials, the dialogue “Log Kya Kahenge” is used very commonly. In the movie 3-idiots, Farhaan’s father uses a slightly different version of this dialogue called “Kapoor Sahab Kya Kahenge”. This dialogue constantly reminds us to be aware of the consequences of our decisions if they do not conform to societal norms.
Malcolm Gladwell explains this “Log Kya Kahenge” phenomena in the third episode of Season 1 of his brilliant podcast, Revisionist History. He talks about how even the most famous basketball players would follow social norms while shooting the ball. There is a technique called the underhand which gives the players a better chance to score a basket. This technique doesn’t look cool as compared to the upperhand, and is pooh-poohed by all players. They even have a nickname for it — “ the granny shot “. If a player took the granny shot, he would be laughed at. So just to avoid the ridicule from other players and the audiences, the player would decide not to play the underhand technique.
So coming back to our fellow jogging in boxer shorts. How could he ignore the “Log” and decide to go against the norms? And why is this such a big deal?
Arthur Canon Doyle gives an answer to this question in a concept called the “ brain attic” in his book “A Study in Scarlet” that made Sherlock Holmes a household name. He argues that our brains are like an attic. The furniture we chose to fill in this attic define how we live our life. Most of us fill this attic with a big furniture called “Social conformity”. It takes away so much space that we are forced to lead our life in a certain way. It is easier to follow the social norms than to go against them as it could cause isolation and humiliation from the society we live in.
Attempt to step outside societal norms can cause isolation, humiliation, embarrassment or shaming from the society. These feelings are unpleasant and to avoid them, we chose to do things that please others instead of those things that please us.
Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, had a very different brain attic. He decided to fill only those things that would support his passion for solving puzzles and mysteries. There was no room in his attic for anything else. There was no furniture called social conformity. This explains why he dressed in a funny cap with flaps, called the deerstalker, and a long tweed overcoat. At the crime scene, he would not hesitate to go down on his knees and use a magnifying glass to analyse footprints which would scandalize the others around him. Many of them thought him to be an “eccentric” person. At home, he would wear a multicoloured silk dressing gown and keep his tobacco in a Persian slipper. So what he wore or what people said about him didn’t matter to him. All that mattered to him was his passion. And that is why he was a “genius”.
In one of my favourite movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela, after being elected as the President of South Africa, decides to support the existing Rugby team. Everybody in his party thinks that this is a bad decision. His political adviser warns him that if his plan backfires, he could lose his followers and his political career. But Mandela’s brain attic did not have space for social conformity. It was full of his passion to bring people of his country together. There is a scene in the movie where he is closely following the Rugby team’s progress in the world cup. His adviser says “ According to the experts, we’ll reach the Quarter Finals, and no further”. Mandela responds “ According to the experts, you and I should still be in jail”. If you think about it, Mandela would have never been able to alter the course of history if he had taken decisions to please people around him.
There is a famous meme that I saw floating around in my social media that goes like this
Take a peek in your brain attics. Do you find a furniture labelled social conformity and if yes, how big is it? If you cannot remove it entirely, replace it with a smaller version of that furniture. The more space you give to this furniture in your brain attic, the lesser freedom you will get to lead your life doing things that you like or want to do. As for me, I am going strut around my neighbourhood in my boxer shorts with USA written all over them.
Rakesh Godhwani calls himself a nobody. He teaches, writes, reads a story to his kids every night before they sleep, bicycles his way to work when he can, does yoga, earns a fraction of what he used to, but lives a million times better. Check his online course Effective Business Presentation on EdX and his latest book Public Speaking Kaleidoscope. Follow him @godhwani. Read his other posts at https://medium.com/@Godhwani or at www.linkedin.com/in/rakeshgodhwani