The shushing we have faced at the hands of our grandparents was often evidenced by the proverbial ‘walls have ears’. Today, this saying has achieved a literal level, since our thoughts and discussions are translated into advertisements that pop up on our social media within minutes of our utterances. Social media is all eyes and ears, using algorithms to prioritize the most irresistible to us on our screens. The advertisements tempt us, until we find ourselves dexterously leading our fingers into our mobile banking apps to pay for what we have been struggling to ignore. However, the question is are we free in making our choices?
The world is rapidly changing and we are desperately trying to keep up by becoming impulsive shoppers who are acquiring stuff that excites us. Despite being able to buy things that are a click away, despite finding the perfume that we have always wanted, landing the clothes that we have been eyeing on the internet, filling our dressers with cosmetics that we have been looking for and finally holding the phone that we have always craved to hold, are we free in acquiring these? If the answer is yes, I would urge you to try and figure out for how long have you felt the freedom to choose. If we were really free, we would permeate with the state of happiness out of spatial bounds. Why is it, then, that despite all we attain, we still find happiness to be in a state of flux. We experience happiness that does not stay and constantly changes shape. The bigger question, then, is: do we really want what we want?
If we reevaluate our choices, we are bound to notice a collective consciousness behind the steering wheel. Our freedom is defined by a ‘self’ that we have constructed through social pressure. Consider, for example, how various dressing styles trend on social media. Pakistani men in the 1970s exhibited a proclivity towards thick side burns and mustache. Today, the focus lies more on having a neatly trimmed beard and hair stuck in place with styling gel. Similarly, women were featured in baggy shirts in solid colors, lacking heavy prints. The fashion hit the market, merely because the fashion on television lured the consumers into believing that this is what they love. Today’s youth is continuously fluctuating between trends, all thanks to social media. However, the trends followed are usually borrowed from the media and prevail for as long as the trendsetters flaunt a specific style. Closely looking at the changing choices, we can probably be shaken awake by the realization that we are loving things that we are made to love. Are we happy in buying what we are buying, or are we just buying things because everyone else wants them?
With consumerism at its peak, thriving on social media advertisements that support it high-spiritedly, it is time we reassess our wishes and desires. We need to attempt to refigure the idea of temporary happiness we have associated with things and seek to comprehend our identity. Our identities and self is being defined by what we wear, what we eat, or how and where we live. Unfortunately, temporary choices are leading us to decide the bigger purpose of our life. The bigger purpose is not to become a part and parcel of the collective identity and lose our freedom thereby. It is to assess our self and build it, finding real happiness as a by-product. Happiness is not a measure of how many things we own but how effectively we feed our soul with what it desires or at least, gain access to our true self.
As human beings, our souls have the ability to latch onto us and remind us every now and then about the endless possibilities and choices we can choose from. What is freedom if we are constantly allowing the herd instinct to define our every move? Freedom should not be driven by a desire to seek validation from our surroundings, but to validate against our own previous self as we evolve.
Allama Muhammad Iqbal, while emphasizing upon exploring the self, defined it in terms of how we put it against ourselves and the world. It means, that unlike angels, man is blessed with an ability to think and choose instead of following blindly. According to him, thus, Adam’s fall into this world does not qualify as a fall, since it was merely man’s transition from heaven into a world of choices and freedom. This implies that man has a choice to build an identity that can be redefined. We are free to choose to associate with whatever we want to be associated with. In other words, to be consumed by consumerism is a choice we are making every day. We do not necessarily need to remain a part of the collective consciousness, but can reassess our identities and develop our real self, which is not controlled by the strings held by consumerism. This world, then, is characterized by man’s ability to become a part of it, by being able to understand the ultimate infinite through comprehension of the infinite soul. This understanding of the soul relies largely on the idea of self and its development, for the nourishment of soul steers and is steered by the self that one develops. If we let consumerism steer our soul towards what is trending, we will never be individuals with individuality. For Iqbal, there are two sides of the self: the appreciative and the effective self. Man is bound to develop both as he evolves. The former self is that which surfaces during times of meditation and is defined by our surroundings in a state of suspension. Such an experience is a wholesome one, permeating through the body, the mind and the soul, saturating the whole state of existence. The latter idea of self, according to Iqbal, is concerned with the world’ one that lives in the world, and is affected by it, constantly rebuilding itself and becoming a state that transitions into another. This defines who we are and how we are attempting to define or redefine self.
Unfortunately, while development of self seems to be the primary motive of life according to Iqbal, we have lost ourselves in the maze that consumerism has constructed for us. To be in a temporary state of happiness, we seek validation and lose our real self. What is our own identity if for example we are buying what the world wants us to buy? The development of self should be defined and redefined by our own exploration, not by the trends the world is setting for us. For our own freedom, we need to understand our identity. This will help us realize the real purpose of our life, gently ushering us out of an identity carved by consumerism.
Our freedom lies in developing the ‘self’ and not wanting what everyone in the world wants. For as Iqbal said,
As consumerism consumes our self with each passing day, let us reevaluate our choices and vow to want what we actually want. HH
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