Looking out to 22: How I should live
This is a personal post: Not how to live, as I must accept that I have nothing insightful to offer, but how I should live.
As 2021 draws to a close and Britain is gripped, again, by a raging pandemic, I am desperately searching for a new start. This year has been better than the last: This time last year, I was in bed afflicted by Covid and barely able to speak; besides, I have made some progress towards my goals, at least in terms of knowing which ones of those are utterly meaningless.
Despite my desperation, I am optimistic though. Even if this new year will not be the day of freedom that I hoped it would be - there would perhaps be a lockdown soon after Christmas - but it would most surely be a new start. I saw some commentators writing that 2022 will mean the end of the pandemic as a social phenomenon when our conversations will move on. We wouldn't be talking about whether to take the vaccine or not, fighting about whether to wear masks or not, whether to restrict travel or to hoard vaccines: We would come to recognise - better late than never - the pandemic as a global problem and start dealing with it accordingly.
But my life needs to change too, and this is what I want to write about here. I have lived through a sequence of compromises, adjusting my goals and controlling my aspirations, to find my way through the pandemic. But this approach is now past its sell-by date: As the pandemic winds down, I must recalibrate and restart.
However, these two years taught me some principles which I shall carry with me in the next phase of my life. I recognise these as fundamental to living - being sane - within the temptations of the consumer society and commercial work. These are my guide rails to keep my focus on my areas of influence - my thoughts and actions - and not be concerned about the general state of the world, with its broken rewards system that allows the fools to rule and the speculators to prosper.
The temptation of 'Good Life'
If I did not know this already, I know it now: That 'Good Life', as seen on TV (or Facebook), is to be avoided like a plague. This is the trap with which the consumer society ensnares us, and if and once I step into it, I would never be able to live.
This 'Good Life' is constructed around being a consumer, having things and doing our bit at the shopping malls. For me, this is the root of all evil - a 'consumer ethic' that we live by - that encourages and rewards speculation as a way of living.
Once, while driving to Gatwick, my minicab driver told me, "in this country, you can only be rich if you take a lot of loans". He was indeed right. However, I grew up on my grandfather's principle - "cut your coat according to your cloth" - and could never really abandon it. Daily, I meet people who live a charmed life by taking outsized risks, selling short and not paying their debts, defining good life in terms of what they possess. And, this is the 'Good Life' I want to avoid and live instead by a 'producer ethic', doing meaningful stuff and being responsible.
Of course, this has led me to a corner, nowhere in London town. I have learnt to cope with the whirlwind of speculation around me by trying not to listen to 'friendly advice' and by not giving into the peer pressure. Of course, I have been accused of being 'unsocial', but I take that as a mark of success: That I have been able to create my definition of 'good life'. I have defined it in terms of 'freedom': More free, not any slave of social trends, petty middle-class games, power-plays at work, able to walk away, more able to lose everything and restart again.
The sweetness of praise
Apart from my disdain of 'good life', I recoil at any praise. This is perhaps my most distinct characteristic, one that originated from watching people being manipulated through flattery. I don't think all praise is false and there are indeed kind friends around me who are sincere in their appreciation. And, indeed, such sincerity is easily understood, as the same friends should be unsparing in their criticism and disappointment when occasions arise. But I would rather keep my guards up and pass up the rare sincere praise to avoid being manipulated on other occasions.
My sensitivity to praise is a late development, perhaps after I watched someone's life disintegrate under the weight of false flattery. While I often refer to acquaintances as friends (a colleague used to say that I have 1.2 billion friends, all Indians), friendship is a high bar for me and I hardly ever admit anyone to this. Again, another reason that makes me 'unsocial' but, for me, friendships are earned through co-suffering rather than enjoying together. In a metaphorical sense, my friends are those who would step in at the worst moments of my mistakes, point out my shortcomings and show me the way and not those I party with. Indeed, those individuals don't exist in reality, but I would rather wait for this idealised friend than give in to the false ones.
The FOMO reflex
The FOMO - fear of missing out - is the third demon of the consumer ethic that I wish to flay. Indeed, our entire worlds - the science of marketing, the wonderlands of social media - are built to sustain a forever FOMO. So far, I have done much worse with this than how I fared with the traps of 'good life' and praise. FOMO is everywhere and its route in my world is not through Instagram but rather the Amazon app. My vanity of being able to run away from the consumer society led me to a book-buying habit, a once-genuine passion that degenerated lately into one of hoarding. My lockdown life was full of unfinished projects, books bought to be lost in a pile, impulse purchases let on by momentary price drops.
I have taken the first step now and admitted that I have a problem. But it's only recently that I have started seeing FOMO everywhere. I would say I am only learning to guard against it and it will take time to reach the same intensity that I have for the other two horsemen of the consumer apocalypse.
These are, then, going to be my first principles to construct a new life in 2022. I am looking to emerge out of the compromises - to begin to live, take risks and be able to commit fully again! I am much older now than when I did such things last time, but this is the only way to prove - to myself - that I am not fully dead yet. Watch this space!