Modern are we?

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By Tinky Ningombam

Time and again, we have been asked to behave civilized. And almost simultaneously, we relate it to the word “cultured” or the phrase “being modern”. And it is another matter that we look at Western ways of life as the more civilized way of life. I simply loved the stark examples when “knowing how to eat in a buffet” is considered cultured and when the parents don’t mind their teenage kids dating, you say “Oh, that’s a modern family.”

I got intrigued by the concept, more so because of a fascinating conversation that I had with my group of friends and then, Diana said “Why do we complain when we cannot mimic the western society and copy exactly what they do? We complain about the ignorance of the older generation being old fashioned but we do not realize that civilization is a step-by-step process.”

The excellent simplicity of that argument made me spellbound. The disconnection that I thought was between the generations was not one between one generation’s cultural values to another but actually one that has always been of one set of thought to another. Let me explain.

What is civilization?

If you look up in the Dictionary, civilization comes from the Latin word civis, meaning “inhabitant of a city.”  So in ancient times, cities used to signify, (as also today) civilization which includes progress in terms of economy, politics, societal structure, trade, technology and so on and so forth.  To become civilized, one needed to achieve this so-called prosperity and well being of the inhabitants.

Different civilizations followed different ways of lives, obviously because they were not as connected as we are today in the global society. Hence every civilization had their idiosyncrasies. While the ways of human life and nuances that get nurtured in their past and what is improved on, is what is CULTURE. Culture, in most people’s heads signify those yesteryear ways of living. Hence, confusing it with traditions, ethnic values and better human etiquette. Let’s not look at culture as an outside entity or something that was “before” but something that is always evolving and adapting . And isn’t that what the word “culture” was actually intended to mean ?

In an entirely different sense, when being cultured, now hence means to go back to old-values and follow what our ancestors used to follow. Being modern, means exactly the opposite. Modern signifies, at least in spirit, things that are ahead.  For instance, modernity or progress in technology cannot be reversed, we cannot go back from something that we have invented or discovered. But as we move ahead, cultures and civilizations can go back, reverse.

My entire argument is firstly, to all those parents out there, either you want your kids to progress, move on, become modern which means civilized, in this context, I mean the western way of life. Or be “cultured”, the right word you are looking for is “behaving how our good ancestors used to behave”, respecting the good values of our people, following traditions (which implies the past) of our people, of our country, so and so forth. I think the parameters are very shaky,   people don’t know yet, or even guess, what the ideal way of life that our folks expect of us. Is it following orders?, is it being nice to other people?, is it earning more money?, is it knowing how to wear a tie?

Logically, you cannot expect people to be “perfect”.

Simple example, do you want us to copy the West, learn English and go out in the global world and do trade or do you want us rooted in tradition and denounce other languages? On one hand, you are saying to not copy the west, then , let’s be more specific, let’s say bring out 10 things in a list , so to say that we are forbidden to copy.

“Can we have less preachers and more problem solvers?” is the question.

Why I especially took about 5 minutes to elaborate on the above is also because of the sense of these words that we have started to manifest through our lives.  And coming back to the same argument, where we say that we cannot jump ahead of time and reach where for instance developed countries such as The US is right now, let’s  say in terms of Feminist Rights or Gay Rights. We can endorse it in spirit but our civilization (here meaning society) has not reached the certain point in its path to accept the “forward thinking “of the west. Civilization is a step-by-step process.  Shaping the minds of people is a step-by-step process. Every society will follow their steps in the life-cycle of their civilization.

We cannot suddenly come out from wearing a phanek to maybe wearing a gown (for the lack of a better example) overnight, when we are at home. While we must not forget, that while modernity in the way people dress is a society’s take. While gowns are common for the West, because let’s not forget that is their traditional attire, which has evolved to shorter dresses as per what their society has unanimously accepted.  Our modern dressing will depend on how “our” clothes evolve, how “our “people react to the evolution and whether or not they can still exist. Sometimes clothes that don’t make sense are never worn for functionality, of course.

Hence, what we adapt from the outside cultures is something that is going to happen as we have reached a stage where we have to be “global”. Every community, every city will have its own pace of progress, we should not compare our level of development, ideology, even ways of life to someone who is a 100 years ahead in their timeline of their civilization.  There is no parameter in which we can guage how one civilization is better to another. Unfortunately in today’s society, the West is the dominating civilization/culture and hence we get drawn in by their prosperity and mimic their ways of life.

I, for one, love a lot of Western ways of living.  The buffet, for instance, I think is a very smart way of not wasting food, unlike how we serve in our family functions. For me being civilized means to be able to remain rational in knowing what to be practical on what can be used for our development and what will create disruption. We should not be anti-west, they have given us a lot of great ideas, inventions, discoveries, technological and scientific progress that we would have taken another 100 of years to explore.  We should be thankful. We as a society should learn from their trial and errors.

(All the views in the article are personal and is not meant to ridicule any set of parents, their ancestors and their would-be future generations. The columnist has no personal ambition to come out with any Parenting books. Tinky Ningombam is a liberal feminist. She believes in the goodness of people and writes in her leisure.)

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