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Survival or Service

Survival or Service

One fine moment we reply with a smile, at other times to the same solicitation we might give a frown. At times we respond to a challenge with grit and character, to some other challenge we instinctively justify the bending of a rule. For the better part of the day, we stand tall by our self-mirror as we adhere to the moral science lessons, but for a few [yet significant] moments we would prefer to go practical.

All of us, - most certainly, yours truly – live in two states. In one, we focus only on the survival of self [or the vaguely extended self]. In the other, we desire to be of service to others. Every moment, I feel, all of us live in these two states. The difference as an individual at different moments the relative dominance of one state of over other varies. Every ‘sinner’ has a heart and every ‘exalted’ guru has a moment of weakness.

Similarly, as groups [families, organizations, communities, nations etc] different states dominate at different times. Different groups demonstrate this behavioural flux as much as individuals. It will probably not be a very bold hypothesis, to state the individual humans tend to demonstrate more service orientation than groups. Groups and their members [because of the love for each other, possibly] can tend to tend for their survival more vigorously – at the expense of service to another group.

The question, how often we can allow the sense of elation associated with service to dominate the instinct or survival is the moot point. How do we educate ourselves, not to overestimate the dependency of an event [whatever it is] for survival – we will survive any which ways!! Similarly, how do we internalize that it is just impossible to overestimate that value of service. That is the moot point, nothing else. Once we solve this mystery and action it – once and for all – all misery and strife will vanish in a generation or two.

Easy to see, it is easier understood than practiced. Mankind, in this current form – is at least a few thousand years old [at least that’s what the history books say]. This implies we and our fore-fathers have lived for at-least 100 plus generations. However – intriguingly – we don’t seem to have sorted out the drivers of survival vs service flux or balance definitively.

We have progressed incredibly well in areas that have given humans greater convenience [which is the other side of the coin of a sense of survival and security] and that the benefits of these have percolated to almost human beings and groups. But the same cannot be talked of service. The trends are less of a monotonous curve. At different times in different moments and ages – individuals and groups have demonstrated huge sense of self-sacrifice and service. Whereas at other times, exactly opposite urges have dominated. The examples of both are scattered all over the history and present are testimony to the same.

Statistically, the discriminating factor – is strength. I feel, when I have been armed with the inner strength of self assurance. Probably that is the critical driver of balance between survival and strength for an individual. For a group however, the conditionings of value play a critical role. Using these conditionings of value, unfortunately, many gory acts have been performed in the name of survival [at the expense of service] using brute strength. However, I am tempted to speculate – such acts of survival are justified by individual weakness which wants to flaunt a collective physical strength. That is almost a convoluted logic. But I building a case for individual strength. Physical, emotional and spiritual. That is in only way – individuals will demonstrate greater service orientation [as there is a greater trigger for self-actualization]. Strong individuals will in-turn will change [with a lag – different groups will have a different lag period though depending upon the degree of internalization of an extant survival value conditioning] change social value systems and conditionings and create a greater service orientation amongst groups themselves.

So, that I think is the crux of all education. Give strength. All institutions of education – self-learning, peer learning, family learning, class learning, work learning, community learning etc – need to be extremely conscious of the need to impart strength. Education will have no value if it gives knowledge and survival skills, without self-actualization and service skills.

We all know, that unless the current growth of entropy in world order is not checked and reversed, the doomsday has a high probability to hit us in the next 100 years. Ironically, today – the world is threatened of collective decimation – because of different smaller groups and we individuals instinct for survival and convenience. If we can change the tide, and help smaller groups and individuals focus on service, we will ensure the survival of mankind for a few thousand years more.

Individually too, we are more likely to be happier and healthier over the longer run, the more we let the grip of the need for survival loosen. Am sure all of us have experienced this. Most certainly, that is the lesson life has taught me over the years.

September 12, 2010


  1. Education is, without any doubt, the greatest enabler. It gives strength, as mentioned. But it may not make us more civilised under the skin. No one says that USA is an uneducated country, yet it mongers war all over the world, in spite of utter failure in Vietnam, Iraq and now in Afganistan. Germans are the most educated ever, in both science and philosophy. Yet, it committed the worst human massacres hopefully the world will not see again.

    I believe that enlightenment is the key which may be the result of education, but not in the formal sense. If you read stories of Hindus and Muslims sharing place of worship in a Rajastan village irrespective of 1992 or 2010, you will realise that even highly educated and experienced High Court Judges haven't got it.

    Coming back to the theme of the dichotomy, I have a few comments.

    The airlines say that “in case of a drop in air pressure, grab an oxygen mask yourself before you help others”. About 40 years back, when I was involved in social work under the guidance of Late Rev. Fr. Beckers, someone told me this: "If you want to help others, first make your own feet stronger."

    I believe that helping others comes from a psychological need to help others, just like for teachers and salesman i.e. it helps the helper to satisfy his own needs, in the process helping others. It need not necessarily come from strength. Millions of people who give alms to beggars do this more out of insecurity and an effort to please God than out of strength.

    So, in my mind, there is no fight between survival an service. It is always survival before service. Why would one help one’s own child first and then other children? I know it sounds crude and uncultured, but even sacrifices in the face of adversity are probably driven by this psychological need.

    I enjoy the intellectual tingling that this blog creates.

  2. it is always survival over service, hardly a doubt...however when service takes visible means survival is taken care of....the more we focus on survival..the more elusive it can get..

    the can we junk it..stops to bcom a big that it bcoms a given....then a we focus on other things...thats where service comes naturally..

    either we get chained to our survival instincts or get emancipated by our service instincts..the choice is ours..its is at the end of the day a personal it becos of enlightenment, knowledge, lack of education or education..

    deliberately..i hv put education below lack of education in the this alone has hardly helped people to kill has often abetted as i hv many times felt...seeing scores of educated people..

    twas just to continue the debate


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