I guess if I ever decide to write an autobiography, I’ll call it ‘A Simple Life’ because now, that’s all I want.
A few months ago I was riding a wave of ambition, wanting to do great things, impact a lot of lives, have achievements to my name people would be impressed by. I wanted to “make a difference”. Even though I knew that one person cannot change the world, I dreamt of changing a lot of things.
(And before you tell me that one person can change the world, I just want to point out that all the examples that are coming to your mind – Gandhi, perhaps, or Nelson Mandela, or Greta Thunberg, etc. – they did not change the world, they changed only a part of it. The world has too many people and too many problems to fix. One person can’t do that. But that’s a discussion for another post.)
But now, seeing the current atmosphere around me, a little of the helplessness that plagued me during my existential crisis has returned. I again spot too many things that need fixing – the climate crisis, the religious prejudice in India, the lack of psychological literature in the country, the shortage of psychological professionals in India, the pathetic state of news channels…. I could list hundreds of issues that I see and wish someone would fix, even though I know change takes time, that someone needs to take initiative, that the world will always come up with new problems for us to deal with.
Things get very complex and difficult in my head, as is perhaps apparent from the paragraph above, whenever I think about the world outside myself. Within myself, there are whole lot of issues, but those are the ones that only I can fix, so I have some control there.
Over the world though, I have none. I only have the possibility – and with practice, the ability – to persuade, to encourage, to engage, to help others.
It’s easy to feel helpless, and it’s easy to feel that it’s so complicated that one better stay removed from all these issues. Once you separate yourself from the world outside of you, you don’t have to worry about fixing things.
Only, I can’t do that. I can’t live knowing that if I choose to, I can make a little difference. I can help someone. I’ve chosen to be a psychologist – how can I choose such a field and not help others, even outside of my work?
I do feel this obligation to lend a hand. And I honestly do not mind it. It does make me feel sometimes that there’s only so much that I can do, but I guess even the people who’ve committed their whole lives to making the world a better place feel that at times. Maybe even more frequently than I do, wondering what the point of it all is.
I’m not going to change the world, I know that. But I do have what it needs to help at least one other person. I have the ability to listen. I have the ability to help out with a little chore, to share true information, to stand up, to discuss and debate, to help in little ways.
So I’ll do that. Because I can’t sit here and not do anything. It is not how I was made. And it is not what I will let myself be moulded into, by myself or by others.
I will help when I can, do what I can.
And this is where a simple life comes in. Because once you set your mind on helping others, you see a lot of problems. If only schools didn’t force kids to memorize things. If only the education system was such that kids didn’t kill themselves over failure. If only prisons were more humane. If only a particular law existed. If only a particular person wasn’t in power. If only people understood.
You see these problems, and you feel like maybe what you are doing – helping in the little ways – isn’t enough. Maybe you should get a degree in education and aim to transform the Indian education system. Maybe you should study law and push for prison reform. Maybe you should join politics and change all the problems that are plaguing the country…
… Maybe you should stop doing the little things because they’re not changing the world and do the big things that will change the world.
Only, that’s not true and it makes things complicated for me. I know I cannot study law and education and psychology and also get involved in politics. There’s too much to do. It needs a lot of investment, money and time being the least of concerns.
And I also know now that the little things do matter. As a friend told me yesterday at my book club’s meet which was centred around literature of resistance – showing solidarity matters. He belongs to a Muslim background and he told me of the despair that Muslim families are going through. In such times, even knowing that people are with them matters.
It’s just one person, but others have told me that the little things are important. Can’t go to a protest? Share correct information so that people don’t believe lies. Tell your friends that they can always crash at your place after a march to unwind and relax. Bake something and send it to the protesters. Support in the ways you can.
Little things do matter just as much as the big actions, if not more, because what is change made of if not tiny steps taken by a lot of people?
So I’ll do what I can. I’ll volunteer, I’ll share, I’ll donate as and when possible. I’ll talk, I’ll listen, I’ll stand up. I’ll study and I’ll get informed.
I won’t be passive. I can’t ignore the world outside of me, because the people in it are too beautiful and the world has so much to offer and it’s worth going out in and learning from.
The helplessness will come; I know it will. It does with a mind that’s so accustomed to overthinking everything. And that is why I want to live a simple life, so there are fewer things to worsen the complex web in my head that makes me want to fix everything and then feel overwhelmed when I realise I can’t.
I know having a simple life is easier said than done – I can’t always choose what life throws at me. But I can choose how I react to it, and I can choose to keep my life simple. Once upon a time I dreamt of being a prolific writer, then a psychologist who changed the face of Indian psychology, or a woman who reformed the education system.
Now these are just fantasies, because I know I cannot do all of these things. More specifically, I do not want to do all of these things. These are just things I wish would happen. I don’t have to be the one who does them. I know there are people much more knowledgeable and qualified, and, more importantly, more committed than me to these issues. What I can do is support these people and their cause in any way possible.
Sure, I sometimes still daydream about these things, riding the wave of ambition – what I call the Slytherin in me. But daydreams are not the same things as goals, and I’ve realised that ordinary lives are underrated.
No person is under the obligation to change the world. You are not wasting your life away if you’re not being ambitious or trying to do great things.
There’s nothing wrong with leading simple lives. What a simple life is depends on you.
For me, it means reading and writing, spending time with my family and friends when possible, laughing a lot, doing my job as a psychologist well, and supporting causes I believe in in whatever ways I can – donating, volunteering, writing, listening, sharing.
Maybe this idea of a simple life is ridiculous and laughable – maybe you’ll think that this girl knows nothing; she’s too naive to think life can be simple.
I don’t know. What I said above fits my idea of a simple life, and as long as I am able to lead that life and not feel helpless and overwhelmed at every turn, I’m fine.