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Question: Acharya Ji, in breaking the law we think that we come out from our daily routines. Does our society allow us that?
Acharya Prashant Ji: How old are you?
Questioner: Twenty years.
(Acharya Ji is addressing a gathering of young students at one of the premiere educational institutions of India).
Acharya Prashant Ji: Twenty.
Most of you here would be between eighteen and twenty-one years of age. You are not eight years of age, and you are not eighty years of age, right? You are neither eight, when you don’t have your brain cells yet fully made, when you are yet dependent upon everybody else, neither you are eighty yet, when you don’t have any physical vigor or stamina left. You are young, right? You like to call yourself ‘young’. Is that a question a young man should ask?
Is that a question a young man should ask – “Will the society allow me?” (Referring to the Holistic Development Program (HIDP) conducted by Acharya Ji’s Foundation, in educational institutions). Your facilitator last semester would have surely recommended one particular book to many of you, ‘The Fountainhead.’ Many of you might also have read it.
Acharya Prashant Ji: The protagonist there, ‘Howard Roark’, he is a student in an architecture college. Fiercely individualistic. Fiercely. He is about to be expelled from his college because he would not subscribe to the type of designs being recommended by his professors. He says, “No, all that is outdated. Today different types of designs for buildings are needed.”
So there is this conversation between him and the Dean of the college. He has been expelled, but the Dean has called him in his office to give him another chance. He thinks that Roark will come and submit apologies, and the Dean will get a chance to forgive him and take him in again, because Roark is otherwise a very talented student.
Now, when Dean is talking to Roark, Roark is totally non-submissive. So Dean asks him, “For all that you are saying, who will allow you to build these crazy designs?” The Dean thinks that the designs made by Roark are crazy, that they are impractical, that they are ahead of the times.
So the Dean is looking at the designs made by Roark and he says, “Who will allow you to build these designs?” Roark says, “That is not the question.” Pay attention to these words. He is a student like you.
Roark says, “That is not the question that who will allow me. The question is: ‘Who will stop me?'” And that is what I call ‘a young man’.
Him I call a young man, who says, “It’s not a question whether society will allow me or not.”
“The question is: ‘Who will stop me? Who can stop me?'”
And only people like Roark cannot be stopped, because they are so sure that they cannot be stopped.
Because they know that they cannot be stopped.
Because they know that they would rather die than stop.
But then a young man gets up and asks me, “Will society allow me?,” you have already declared the force of society over you, you have already declared that you are afraid of the society. Who is the society? Where is the society? Show me the society!
One of you sitting here is an individual. When a crowd assembles here, it starts calling itself a ‘society’. What is there to be afraid of? What are you afraid of? And if you are afraid today, when will you give up fear? When will you give up fear?
But I tell you why you are afraid.
You are afraid because society is collectivism – people collected together.
And you deeply believe in that.
Even when at this moment I am talking of fierce individuality, I can see at least five of you, not with yourself but with your neighbor. And I blame not those who want to chit-chat, I blame those who are willing to let their ears to their neighbor. They have already lost the battle with the society.
The battle with society, the battle for being myself, has already been lost on those who cannot tolerate being alone with themselves.
Roark is very contented with himself and himself alone, and that is why he deserves to be the protagonist of that novel. What do you think, this is what Roark does when he sits in a gathering, or when he sits in a lecture, or in a seminar, or in a Samvaad event? Would he be chatting with others? That’s what he does? No, not really.
Why think about society at all? Who can stop you? Who can stop you unless you are prepared to be stopped? And why are we prepared to be stopped? Because we have entered into a surreptitious kind of contract with the society.
You are not afraid of the society.
You are afraid of letting go of your privileges, your emoluments that you get from the society.
Your self-worth comes from the society, so you are afraid of the society.
That – “What happens if the society takes away my self-worth?”
The society has given you your name, it gives you a certain respect, it gives you all your identities. You are afraid that the society can take all of them away, you have entered into a business contract with society. That is the reason why you are afraid. You are taking so much from them that you don’t want this to stop. You want to keep taking from them.
Students across campuses often come to me and say, “This is what we want to do. I want to do this, I want to do that, but my family does not allow me. Under pressure of these people I have given up, and now I want to do this. I really think that I love that field, but I am not really being allowed.”
And there are people in their final years of graduation, they come up and say, “Well, we are students of Electronics Engineering, but we are being pressurised to take jobs in Software and IT sector. And we do not want to do that.” And I ask them, “Why do you feel the pressure? It is alright if another person wants to exert the pressure, but why do you feel the pressure?”
And let me tell you why they feel the pressure.
They feel that pressure, because all the time they are benefiting a lot from that, they are taking from others. I have been a student of IIT and IIM, and a very significant number there studies on education loans, very significant number. Not that their parents are beggars and cannot afford their education, but they prefer to take education loans. But I have come across to any private engineering college, where not more than a quarter are studying on education loans.
How many over here are studying on education loans? (A few in the audience raise their hands). Again, not more than a quarter. See, the statistic holds good. It is further affirmed. When you are taking lakhs and lakhs from a person, now can you really think of Freedom from society? Are there any free lunches in life? And then you come and cry, and weep and put up miserable faces and say, “Oh, we are slaves. We are bonded.”
You have chosen to be bonded!
The same fellow who is a shopkeeper and will not give even a two-rupee discount to anybody, you think that fellow can give ten lakhs, and forget it? The mind is the same, right? The mind is the same. From the customer it will extract cash, from others it will extract in time, if not in cash. But the extraction will happen. And that is the reason why you are afraid, because there is a lot that you are taking.
When I was studying in IIM Ahmedabad, the study regimen there was toughest amongst all business schools in the world. I am not talking of just business schools in India, but amongst all business schools in the world. Just search on Google, and you will come to learn what does it mean to be competing in that campus.
And even when I was studying there, I ensured that I was earning enough for my monthly expenditures, by coaching and teaching. So I would teach in a few CAT Coaching institutions, I would even teach as a visiting faculty in another MBA institution. And from that money that I would earn, I would take care of my monthly expenses, and I would even use a part of that to go to Gandhi Ashram which is in Ahmedabad, and buy something for the kids there. I love to be engaged with the kids.
Now, when I am doing that, I am totally on my own. And of course it was uncomfortable, of course there was a price to be paid, of course I needed to be more efficient with my studies so that I can find out time for that as well. But that gave me Freedom, and Freedom was dear to me.
Now, is Freedom dear to you? I am talking of life in a campus (IIM Ahmedabad) that had an absolutely packed, tight schedule. And look at your university. Out of the 52 weeks in a year, actually the number of working weeks will be no more than 25 or 30.
When we prepare the semester-long schedule of Holistic Development Program (HIDP), we find it difficult to complete even a 10-weeks program per semester. It is difficult to squeeze out 20 weeks in a year, because the actually number of working days available are very less.
There is this much of free time available to you, and what you do with that free time? Do you use that to secure your Freedom? No, you don’t use it for that. You squander it away with others, with others like you.
Is Freedom really important to you?
If it is important to you, you will secure it, you will get it.
Do you love being free?
Are you really a free bird?
No, you had accepted slavery long back.
And then you complain, and then you put up miserable faces, that won’t do.
These faces are masks.
The one who wants it, gets it.
Questioner: Acharya Ji, if we remove our masks then people will find us weak and vulnerable. And then they can exploit us.
Acharya Prashant Ji: Paras (the questioner), who told you that a particular way of behaving or being is a weakness? Who told you that anything is a weakness? Who told you that there are parts or shades of your being that are unworthy? All of this has been drilled deeply into you. None of this has any authenticity to it. But you have been repeatedly told that – you are incompetent, unworthy, and you need to hide your weaknesses.
There is no weakness.
There is no question of hiding anything.
What you are calling as a ‘weakness’, is your own being.
This is what you are.
And if somebody calls it a ‘weakness’, tell him, “Take it or leave it. I am package, a complete package. I can’t hide one part of myself.”
Who told you that weaknesses exist? Who told you that? Others.
And the same others, then teach you to also hide your weaknesses.
Don’t you see that the entire question is full of fear and insecurity?
“Sir, if I show them my weakness, then they will exploit me.”
Don’t you see you are already terrified? Of whom? Of others. Why have you created this monster? Why have you created this monster? All of you would have written down something on those sheets of paper, but very few of you would dare to get up and speak, even though those questions are your questions and they are important questions.
But you will not get up and speak. Why? Because you are afraid of others, and these others happen to be your own friends. You are terribly scared to rise and speak. You are terribly scared.
Last time when I was here, I spoke. And after the event completed, when I was moving towards my vehicle to leave, many from the audience came over to ask some questions. And some of them asked beautiful questions, genuine inquiries. And I asked them, “Why didn’t you raise these questions in the hall during the event, when everyone might have benefited from it?” And they just hanged down their heads and said, “We didn’t dare to.”
And as I am speaking to you, you know who I am referring to. So many of you want to ask a question, but won’t do it because you are afraid of revealing your so-called weaknesses. “If I ask this question, everyone will come to know of my weaknesses. How do I ask this question in the presence of 100-200 people that I am afraid? How do I ask in front of so many people that why I am living like this? What do I do?”
You are not even living, you are just afraid. And it is so sad, so disappointing.
One of the worst sight is to look at a young man, a young woman, who is not sure of himself or herself, who does not dare to live life according to his own Intelligence.
There are no weaknesses.
There are no weaknesses.
There is just ‘you’.
The ‘you’ in your completeness, the ‘you’ in your entirety.
Do not think that some part of you is strong, and the other part of you is weak. Do not think this. What happens when you declare something a ‘weakness’? You suppress it, don’t you? You try to hide it. And whatever you suppress, gains in strength.
Whatever you suppress gains in strength.
You would have noted that in the HIDP sessions, the students who are the least comfortable with coming up and speaking, are also the ones who miss the maximum of classes. They are also the ones, who when given a chance to speak, would shy away and stand at the back. They are also the ones who would take up the smallest roles in the role-play activities. Why? Because you do not want to reveal your so-called weaknesses. And then those weaknesses become more and more powerful.
The moment you look at it, and you cannot look at it till the time you are calling it a ‘weakness’. Till the time you are declaring it to be ‘ugly’, you will not be able to look at it. Who likes to look at ugliness? Who likes to look at his own ugliness?
The first thing is – stop calling it a ‘weakness’ and look honestly, directly at it.
And let it be.
Just let it be.
Don’t even try to fight it, let alone suppress it.
And in that ‘looking’, you will be the overcoming of the so-called ‘weakness’.
The weakness will not go away, your attitude about it will go away.
Watch the session video: Acharya Prashant on ‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand: You have chosen to be bonded! The transcription has been edited for clarity.
If you feel inspired upon reading the above interaction on Fountainhead, and wish to enrol in the ongoing online course series on the same : click here
Unshakable! Unruffled! Unavoidable!
Meet Howard Roark in the raw, through the eyes of Acharya Prashant Ji.
A strongly recommended online course series.
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