Several of us had gone to visit a top Indian bureaucrat. While we entered his room and stood, he kept looking at his cell phone with his glasses reflecting his Facebook page. It took him a while to lift his face and recognize us. He perhaps thought we would be impressed by how loaded with responsibility he was. I was thinking about how juvenile in an adult body he was. What a life of stress he lived playing his drama day in and day out.
People worry about being confident in social affairs. Many courses run to polish social skills and to learn to radiate an aura of confidence. Many self-help books have been written, some good, some bad, and some that teach one to be psychopathic and manipulative.
While the tricks and put-on social mannerisms might help in the short term, one eventually becomes more confused. In this exploration, I draw upon my observations growing up in India, shedding light on what contributes to genuine self-assurance and what leads to confusion.
Indian culture is structured to control its populace through humiliation and punishment. Parents and teachers have no compunctions about beating children. The berating and demeaning behavior continues into adulthood. Nothing is on equal terms. One side must address the other as “sir.” The same people are either obsequious or arrogant, depending on whom they are dealing with. No one escapes this quagmire, not even those at the top.
Indians end up thoroughly broken, crippled psychologically and spiritually. The culture emphasizes might over right, overshadowing values like reason, morality, and fairness.
To cover up their psychological deficiencies, Indians desperately crave power. They need the crutches of a fleet of servants or bodyguards, a desperate attempt for status. But it is an escape. Their hearts know what they are. Those in power show their power by being busy and heavy-handed, forever afraid of getting too close to anyone, for it would entail the risk of their inner hollowness getting found out. They end up surrounded by mindless sycophants, an existence that any sane person would run away from.
Most people never make it that far and spend their life crawling up in a rat race for power, money, and status. They desperately need the approval of others and to be a part of a cult or group they can identify with. Many people chose to lose their identity in the mob, religious rituals, superstitions, or in being mindless slaves.
However, there is a way out for those who choose to be free, escape the maze, have their own minds, and have an honorable existence.
To Indians, Westerners look the most confident and self-satisfied. They think copying specific Western ways—their language, clothing, etc.—is how to get similar confidence. While these are valuable tools in their own right, they cannot build self-confidence.
Worse, Indians copy what is not even Western values: promiscuity, drinking, drugs, hip-hop, flirting, etc. They only see and find attracted to what the worldview they developed during their upbringing makes them.
Western confidence comes from being better rooted in universal principles. This is only possible in a culture of free exchange and criticism of ideas, a culture of reason, respect for others, “even” for children and animals, the search for truth, and a culture of introspection.
Beyond the Western world, the dynamics shift. East Asian cultures embrace elements of Western institutions while retaining a higher emphasis on honor and personal responsibility. However, they don’t encourage independent thinking as much as the West does, are socialized to participate in the rat race, and are left vulnerable to peer pressure. Their confidence suffers.
Considerably lower in self-confidence than East Asians are the Arabs. Islam tries to anchor them to something objective, but in a brittle way, by giving dos and don’ts and suppressing critical thinking through its desire for unquestioned obedience. To be anchored appropriately, one must attempt to understand complexity, which comes only from critical thinking and continual discussions and exploration.
Far further down the spectrum are sub-Saharan Africans and those from the Indian subcontinent. They have magical thinking, and their minds are floating abstractions. There is no attempt to anchor their minds, not even in a brittle, raw way. They need a constant supply of self-gratification to feel better. They must live vicariously through others, like feeling proud of the number of Indian CEOs in the USA or India’s space program. They are the least confident and the most servile and stressed.
So, what is the way out? True self-confidence is not a pursuit of external validation but a journey of self-awareness and moral grounding. It is the pursuit of reason, honor, and objective fairness that ultimately cultivates genuine self-assurance. By anchoring our minds to these principles, we can find lasting peace and confidence—qualities that cannot be chased but attained through a life of integrity.