Who sets the standards for your life?

The plants live, grow and thrive or decay by the constraints – “standards” -imposed upon them by the neighboring trees! The same goes for the animal kingdom. In this respect we are no different from any of these species of nature. We have a need to live as part of the social order within a family, within a community, as citizens of the nation and ultimately as part of the world community. “Keeping up with the Jones” is the phrase which captures this accommodation of each other within a community.

But, such accommodation and living within the social and societal norms and expectations must be based on reasoned choices. As humans, we are endowed with our special skills to reflect, analyze and reason. It is important to use these skills to reflect on the standards and rules that we set on our own as well as the rules we impose on each other. It is also important for every one to live a life that releases each other from the shackles of “expectations”. When we do, life is indeed simple!

The above is easier said than done. Do we raise our children to be good, well mannered and educated to a life of reasoning and conscious choices or do we subjugate them to full fill a series expectations set by the parents and society to meet their perceived standards? Do we set the climate of reasoning and logic in family matters or do we let the perceived notions of right and wrong rule the day? Do we speak up and engage when it matters at work place, in social setting and public events or do we merely stay quiet and dismissive to avoid “making the waves”? Do we relate to each other as friends and members of the community based on a common understanding of who we are and the values we imbibe or do we just live a life of “going with the flow”?

Here is an anecdote from the life of John Brock: “As the day went on, I spoke with the doctor, and I said, ‘Doctor, I’m not supposed to get a shock treatment today. Permission [has] been removed by my family,’ “Brock recalls. “The doctor  looked at me said, ‘Get up on the table.’ And I do remember a slam of the electricity through my head.” Some years later, Brock looked back through his psychiatric records and found that his elder sister Kay had, in fact, retracted his family’s consent to shock treatments.

“How did you get out?” his daughter Glenn asks.

“In a word, I lied,” Brock explains. “I started studying television programs. I would just watch people, listen to how they interacted. I knew that to the degree that someone seemed normal — to the doctors, the nurses — they were more interested in thinking of that person as someone who could, should leave Bryce Hospital.”

Jon Brock went on to get a master’s of public administration, and today he works as a peer bridger, someone who helps current and former mental health patients with their recovery.

“Watching how you have lived your life makes me think that it is possible to fight through things, and to live,” Glenn tells her father. “I think it sort of made me brave.”


What do we learn from the above anecdote? One simple truth: We live a life, where we are considered normal, as judged by “others” and their “standards”. It is this need to live up to the expectations of others that creates the most of the complexities of life. For Mr. Brock, such expectations were imposed on him. Being a mentally disabled patient, he had little choice but to undergo electric shock therapy involuntarily and unwillingly. To escape from these shackles and hardships, Mr. Brock had to imitate others and thus live a life that appeared “normal” to the people to whom such normal mattered the most – the doctors and nurses.

For most of us, the constraints imposed on us are not as severe as the episode in the life of Mr. Brock. Yet, most of us have to ask the simple question: Are my constraints imposed on me or are they self-imposed constraints? Is there a logical fit to these constraints or are they merely a blind following to meet some one else’s opinions and judgments. Such internal reflection is part of our spiritual evolution.

The duality (right/wrong, good/bad, like/dislike, love/hate, etc.) are created by our connectors (Knowledge, bias and ignorance). Any person, who departs from the long-term and the short-term effects of such dualities, lives an enlightened life and the joys associated with it. The rest struggle through the life with their attachments and the emotional pains associated with them. In this process they miss the opportunity to realize the potentials for a larger purpose in life and the joy associated with it   B.G. 15.10.

Having separated from pre-determined notions of such duality and constantly dwelling in the permanence of contemplation, reasoning, reflection, analysis and the conclusion derived from it, one reaches the goal of unification with the change less state of existence. B.G. 15.5.

Those who are able to function with such enlightenment (Yogi) – with total self-control and unattached active participation in the life activities – are able to enjoy the life to its fullest extent (described as finding the Lord within oneself).  The rest, even though striving to seek perfection, happiness or the Lord’s blessing (through prayers), do not attain such enlightenment.  B.G. 15.11.

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4 Responses to Who sets the standards for your life?

  1. nandita murty says:

    A thought provoking article with a very important message ….thank you!


  2. A.V.Sundararajan says:

    The article details the rational approach to life. Generally people do not think. They only feel.

    I remember a famous quote,”Thinking is the hardest profession there is, as I see few engage in it”. The truth is that people just do not understand the difference between ‘Thinking” & ‘Thought”. It is unfortunate that people believe ‘Thought’ is the result of ‘Thinking”. When one really understands the difference through the rational input, one can really see through matters, situations, people, approaches and even time itself.

    To a great extent, such a life belongs to an ascetic. A normal human need not rise to that level. However, that must be a conscious decision and not an excuse, which we normally encounter..


  3. jayanthi says:

    So true! Breaking imposed constraints gives a lot of freedom and joy and unlocks the soul to new experiences.


  4. SRamaswamy2003@gmail.com says:

    Very good article.
    So called “Knowledge” is a double edged sword – hard coded opinions (rules) derived from your perceived knowledge can actually bias you and constrain your own freedom.

    Lot of brain research has to be done to figure out how, where, when we imbibe or form such rigid rules in life and why we become incapable of breaking out of such self restraints.
    Also not having too many emphatic rules in life does not imply that the person is just going with the flow though – every one’s learned tolerance level determines when one moves from an observer state to an active participant in an activity happening around him.


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