Secured Spiritual Well-Being by Means of Fruitful Social Contracts
The influence of social surroundings is a basic problem of education and a topic that has been given special attention by moralists. In general, man leads his life among people, and the fabric of his personal existence is made in society. The role of society in laying down the foundations of an individual's personality, moral character, and conduct is one of the self-evident facts of human existence. Man cannot break his links with his fellowmen or live in isolation, because the frightful darkness of loneliness would make his life grim and unbearable, and make his spirit languish in solitary confinement. If one did not have ties of friendship and love with anyone and were one to feel that there isn't a single heart in the whole world that throbs for him and that one can find no emotional refuge, one would be in deep anguish and the skies of one's being would become dark and gloomy. On the other hand, in the same way that the body needs various kinds of nourishment for its health and strength, our souls also draw their nourishment from the company of friends, often acquiring virtues and merits from them, and at times becoming tainted with their vices and sins.
Everyone has strong feelings of attachment for the way that he has chosen in life. He also desires others to adopt it and tries to create, through those with whom he associates, an environment for himself that is harmonious and pleasant. Regarding the world through the window of his world outlook, he gives a certain hue and perspective to its problems, and actually tries to find justification for the way that he has chosen for himself. Obviously he would find any opposition to his chosen lifestyle to be very painful.
Accordingly, the character of one's company and the understanding of its limits is something on which our happiness profoundly depends. It is by the means of fruitful social contacts we cultivate today that our future spiritual well-being and individual independence are secured. Hence it is necessary to understand one's psychological needs in the sphere of social relations, and, on the basis of these requirements, to carefully develop and follow a programme.
Some scholars believe that the tendency to emulate others is innate in the human nature. This tendency is so imperceptible that it is not so simple to discover its profound effects. The study of various situations relating to emulation indicates that one is influenced by others in one's conduct, feelings, decisions, and even in one's opinions and judgements. One tends to mould oneself in accordance with the principles subscribed to by one's community and group. Others influence one's development in proportion to their personal power and influence over one, and no matter how much a person may be educated and intelligent, a part of his independence vanishes in the company of other people and his personality is overshadowed by the spiritual domination and pressure of the beliefs of his community. Of course, those who suffer with spiritual inadequacies are more acutely susceptible to the influence of others, as their mental powers are relatively more deficient.
According to the view of a group of psychologists, a person emulates others when he finds a mental satisfaction in doing so, or because he imagines that his conduct would win the approval of others, or that such conduct has been the cause of others' success. For instance, the emulation of heroic figures, or children's imitation of the conduct of the elders, occurs for this reason. Even in animals it occurs under particular conditions when an animal imitates others when it achieves something by that means.
People resort to imitating others when that helps them reach goals in the psychological sphere. In other words, the condition of latent urges leads to imitation, not that these goals are created by an urge called the urge to imitate. When a saleswoman adopts the hair-style of some celebrity, that is not because she is driven by an urge to imitate. Rather, the reason behind her action is that for her it is a means to realise the lifestyle of that celebrity or other stars whom she represents. 1
Although special attention to the problem of social intercourse is necessary at all stages of life, it has a greater importance for the young who, having left behind the traits of childhood years, stand at the threshold of a serious career, in social life and relations. That is because, due to spontaneous emotional factors and passing motives, they are prone to being drawn into friendships and close relations without carefully examining the spiritual and moral condition of those with whom they associate or make friends and without evaluating their way of thinking and fitness for friendship. This lack of attention to what is reasonable and proper may divert the youth from the real highway of life and land him in corruption and vice. Accordingly, we should neither ignore their natural inclination for associating with persons of their age group, nor neglect the need for effective guidance and logical and well-reasoned advice, to make them resistant to influence of any kind of vicious and destructive elements, so that they may grow in a way free from all kinds of educational hazards.
At this stage, which are tense years of unrest, the personality of the youth advances towards independence. The heroes whom he adulates and the persons whom he admires disclose his need for a guide, a model, and source of inspiration to be emulated. Similarly, the state of uncertainty and doubt that takes hold of his being derive from his inadequate intellectual power of judgement and his effort to obtain mental independence.
With attention to the fact that the youth has an innocent and receptive heart, as he passes through a period of passion and emotional excitement, one may well assess the magnitude of the big role played by his associates at this sensitive stage in the development of his spiritual and mental faculties. Accordingly, for the sake of precaution against any deviation, failing, and setback it is essential for them to be acquainted with the principles of healthy and fruitful company and to be guided towards true personal development.
1. J. A. C. Brown, The Social Psychology of Industry, Persian trans. Rawanshendsi-ye ijtimaa'i, p. 399.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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