Hearing voices is definitely a strange thing (even in the magical word of Harry Potter). Stranger is hearing voices that others can’t hear. But truthfully and honestly we have all grown up hearing voices around us. The voices of all the people whom we didn’t see but they still played a major part in our lives.

Let me elaborate. Remember the voice of the neighbourhood aunty who saw you eating gola on the roadside and complained to your mother. Or the one who saw you talking to boys/girls. Or the one who told your parents that your clothes were not “appropriate”. We all grew up in the fear of these voices. The people around us, the society at large has had a huge impact on us (as much as we deny it).

There is a whole branch of psychology dedicated to studying humans in social environment. After all man is a social animal, isn’t he?

All of us are born with a need for approval and attention. It is one of our basic needs. Yes I know the basic need is food, water and shelter. But if you look at it from a different perspective somewhere our need for approval transcends these needs too. Ok I am not talking about the homeless and the hungry. I am talking about people who have the three (food, water and shelter) but need approval to use them.

Let’s take food. What we eat, how we eat, when we eat is very much dependent on our perception of approval.  We change our eating habits based on what we think will be accepted by the company we are in. Try going for lunch with the so called “high class” people (The ones who feel that only non Indian food is edible). Try ordering Pav Bhaji or dosa when everyone else is ordering pastas and pizzas. Tell me honestly if you can eat it in peace amongst all the disapproving glances? The need for approval also forces people to eat dosa with fork and knife:-p

And drinking and peer pressure is almost as old as alcohol itself! The house too is decorated by the interior designer approved by the friends. Moreover, the cleaning starts just before guests come for a visit ;-).

Everything about us is affected by the voices of people around us. The way we dress (I dare you to wear an Indian dress to a nightclub), the way we speak (the overly emphasised accent or the deep desire to use English), the way we write (using  the blasted sms lingo) is all done for those voices.

You may scream from rooftops that what the society thinks doesn’t matter to you. But the truth is that it does. Why else would you scream from rooftops? You could have just kept it to yourself ;-). The need is just expressed and fulfilled in different ways.

Let’s observe people in a party (I am hopeless, aren’t I?). There are people you would find sitting in one corner. They are shy and probably anxious.  And there are people who are loud and are life of the party. Both these people are affected by the voices around them. The anxious ones tend to withdraw to themselves for the fear of being laughed at while the loud ones are just louder for the fear of not being laughed at.

I saw a young man who had suddenly withdrawn himself from his friends and stopped going to parties and socials. Why? “Too much pressure”, he said. “I am supposed to be the clown of our group, the life of the party. Everyone looks at me to start the fun. I really feel scared of not living upto their expectations. What if one day they find me boring?” Poor guy, no one realizes how the voices around him were affecting him too.

And then there was this young girl who avoided people because she was scared they would think of her as stupid. She didn’t answer in class or ask for help when she was lost because of this fear. What will the voices say?

And I had this urge to sing “Kuch to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna” but I was scared of the voices disapproving my voice.

So what do I do about these voices? The fact of the matter is that we can’t do without these voices. The society around me is important for my validation. An artist finds his inspiration in these voices; a dancer finds his motivation in them. And isn’t an “I love you” sweeter when it is followed by a “too”. A person who isolates himself is more likely to feel low and depressed.

These voices are responsible for my learning too. Unless someone points out my errors I will not learn the correct way of doing things. Be it in learning a language or skill or even fashion.

The problem about these voices then lies in our acceptance. If only we could accept the “bad” voice with the “good” voices. If I expect every voice to sing my praise I will never be comfortable around them. I need to accept that some of those voices will be disapproving.

The problem is not with the voices per se but our need for approval. I want everyone around me to say good things about me, my looks, my work etc. If not I am miserable. I tend to ignore the voices that actually have something nice to say but focus on voices that don’t. Not only am I discouraging to myself but also to those voices that have nice things to say to me. “They are just being nice”, “they are just saying it to please me” or “they are saying it because they want something in return”.

It is more important to me to shut the critics than to thank the approvers. And then I complain that “no one likes me”.

Life will be easier if we could accept both. The flowers and the bricks. They both are an important part of my learning. There are voices around me for a purpose. The “horn” in the car also has a purpose. If you pay too much attention to it you won’t be able to think straight. But ignoring them altogether is risky too. We need to focus on the one which will help us.

A person who has never met critics will become obnoxious and the person without admirer will be a recluse. I need to decide which of the voices is important to me and then listen carefully.

And of course there is a little voice within us which will help us choose…..

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2 thoughts on “The voices around me

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