As I get older and listen to people express their inner feelings, one of the deepest pains I hear is how so many us are living a life not out of choice, but out of expectations or pressure. We live our lives based on parental expectations, societal expectations, and religious expectations, among any others. Many times these aren’t just expectations, but also pressure and force. I have heard people complain sadly as to what they wanted to study, what career they wanted to pursue, whom they wanted to marry, etc but couldn’t. Most of them wish their families and societies would see their way, would accept them, and unconditionally support their happiness. And these complaints reminded me Friends’ pilot episode where Rachel complains to her dad.
But the part that confuses is when people say they want to be accepted, that they want society to change, but they themselves don’t. We are society. Although we want to be accepted, we don’t accept what we don’t like. We don’t want to be singled out because of our race, gender, age, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other trait, but too many of us do that to others.
We want our children and spouse to follow our beliefs. Even if we say we don’t want it, we expect it. And while those expectations from our parents made us change our dreams, we don’t think its wrong to expect it from our children or spouses. But the funny thing about beliefs is that they keep changing along with our life experiences. What we believed or practiced yesterday, we might not do that today or tomorrow. Yet we probably had fights and arguments with our family members or loved ones regarding how they aren’t following our beliefs. Even if we do not force them, our expectations creates pressure on them, especially on children, to conform to our beliefs. That is the same pressure we felt as children, those of us who complain about our parents or societies’ expectations. This is the hypocrisy that keeps the cycle going on and on. And this pressure and expectation never leaves us. If someone we loved wanted us to be something and we didn’t choose that career/spouse etc, as they get older or pass away, we choose to do what they wanted us to do because we feel guilty and think we owe it to them. Why is it fair that we leave others with a feeling of guilt of how they should live their lives?
If our own ideas and beliefs keep changing, why is it okay that others should live their lives the way we are living ours at this moment in time? Our ideas might change tomorrow. Should we make our children and spouses keep changing their lives based on our expectations and ideologies? Today I might marry say I want to marry someone who only believes in the flying spaghetti monster, but what if I don’t believe in it tomorrow myself? What if my partner stops believing in it, but keeps up the act just for my sake? Is that fair? When we say we want our children and spouses to have our values, we misconstrue values with beliefs. Values are universal – honesty, compassionate, kind, empathetic etc. But beliefs are personal. And beliefs should remain personal, without expecting it from anyone else, not even from our own children. We should be teaching them values, and not beliefs that might not make sense to them as they grow older, but which they might be forced to continue to please their parents. Teaching them is acceptable if it is done with the unconditional expectation that as they grow older, they have the right to choose their own paths. If we want to be accepted by others, we must break this hypocritical cycle of not accepting others. We can all be happy if we let everyone choose whether they want to be a purse or a shoe or hat, whatever makes them happy!