Life – the missing narrative (1)

It is difficult to ignore the tear-jerking, message-oriented advertisements of trivial products like detergents that make these product brands come across as something more than what they are – a simple solution to wash our dirty laundry. These brands are striving to acquire more mind-space than what such a daily use object deserves. Not just that, they are out there to prove how a detergent is not just a chemical product but signifies something much bigger and serves a higher purpose in our life and society.

While the narrative around such trivial products is becoming grander, most of our grand institutions are failing to find a story that articulates their identity, purpose, reason for existence. 

This is a phenomenon that is consistently observed for our schools, relationships, businesses and even for our country. For mundane product categories, these stories have to be crafted and then pushed by intelligent people in brand & marketing teams. However, the situation was different for the important social institutions. They had always had a very compelling narrative that established their need, utility and importance for a well-functioning society.

Each of these social institutions had an inherent purpose; a narrative that however, for most, seems to have got lost, diluted or forgotten. And, in absence of that narrative these institutions are loosing their relevance.

One of the most important entities that seems to be have veered away from its intended course & completely lost on the narrative front is the “Human Life”.

Before getting into what was or should be the narrative, it is critical to examine why do we even need a narrative in the first place and what’s the current narrative. A narrative is defined as something that is narrated :  a story or an account. In context of social institutions, the narrative can be taken as a simpler, easy to understand articulation of its binding paradigm, guiding philosophy and reason of existence. A narrative helps in reminding, reinforcing the underlying tenets and principles and works as a casual compass to align the movement.

In our today’s utilitarian society, every entity has to serve a very functional, practical purpose and economic gain seems to be the biggest practical purpose that any entity can serve – be it our forests, animals or even humans.

Unfortunately, for human life the narrative seems to have been reduced to serve the man-made economic system. To live for work is apparently the code of conduct and the motto guiding everyone from teenagers to adults.

The stress and pressure to prove your worth in the market is immense – starting right from the campus placements upto retirement. The facade of professional success – reaching the pinnacle- is so alluring and enamouring that women are fearing to tend to their children as their careers may be jeopardised; 12 year olds in school are doing start-ups and designing customer acquisition strategies; men are clocking 80-100 hours/week in their cubicles making grand designs & PPTs to fuel the fire of consumerism.

This unspoken narrative seems to be taking a shape of its own and now has a natural extension– To live for work, at the cost of everything else. Everything other than maximising our economic output seems to be not important and rather an impediment in this holy economic pursuit.

In our bid to create larger companies and improving our profits, we are crippling our environment at an alarming & unsustainable rate. To cope up with stressful working conditions more women are sticking to the stick – India registered highest growth rate of women smokers; to escape from mental drudgery our bars & pubs are all too crowded on a Friday evening or for that matter even on weekdays now. Strong messaging of self-centred indulgence from commercial brands, a shallow sense of independence triggered by monthly salaries, high stress and demands at workplace are also testing & affecting the ability to pay attention, make adjustments or to improvise at home thus seriously affecting the relationships between husband-wife, parents-children. Divorce rates have shot up by 300% in many metro cities while the strain between relationship of teenagers with their parents is evident every where.

Certainly, this narrative built around professional success and economic productivity alone seems to be failing both the individual & institutions but we are too slow to realise and react to the imminent danger.

What we do need is a fresh perspective and for that we can seek inspiration from our great civilisation that stood test of time for thousands of years keeping not just intact all institutions but exhibiting an extraordinary sense of accomplishment across the spectrum – be it social, commercial or spiritual.

We need to find some other more meaningful and less destructive parameter of expressing our self-worth, our purpose than the current notion of economic output or productivity.