So, a few months ago, on a night I was quite intoxicated, I found myself going on a rant about white people in front of a bunch of my friends who happened to be- wait for it- white people. Of course, they also happen to be the nicest people in the world so the reactions I got ranged from laughter to “you can call us white bitches all you want!” I love you guys. But along with all these light-hearted comments, I got a rather thought provoking input from one of them, who, well, ironically enough, happens to be British. Referring to my comments on fair skin, this is what she had to say- “Do you think your country’s fascination with fair skin is because of colonisation?” While I might not have been able to fully gauge the meaning of her words in that time and state, it is something which has been playing relentlessly at the back of my mind ever since. Is the fact that we were once dominated by people with lighter skin the reason why we’re so obsessed with being fair? I’m not going to voice my opinion on skin colour because I have done that already. Instead, I want to cover something broader- the power of influence.

Let’s go along with the colonisation example for starters. I’m not a politics enthusiast. But I am a citizen and resident of this country. And there are some aspects of my daily life which I can see are easily influenced by the British rule. While I might not have lived through that period, we cannot deny the fact that the story of India’s struggle for freedom has been beaten into us from a very young age. A simple example would be the lack of bus lanes on our roads. While that concept is slowly gaining popularity, it wasn’t something that was given any thought to during the immediate post-independence period. Have we ever questioned why it was so? Correct me if I’m wrong (no, really, I’m serious- use the comments tab below) but all those who lived through the raj saw the British being carried around in their fancy cars or jeeps. Any other mode of transport used was only developed in order to suit their convenience. Did they care about the public? No, the Indians were simply men who served them by cooking their food and going to war. Was there any concept of welfare? No. They only cared for wealth. And that was what preceded our vision too. Post-independence, our mind-set was such that we wished to be at par with, if not above, above them. So did we ever focus on our bus lanes? No, because we wanted to be wealthy enough to have cars ferry us around. I’m not trying to criticise BEST or the local trains or the rickshaws and taxis. They’re our lifelines and life-savers. I’m only trying to bring out the power of influence. And this happens to be only one example. It’s probably the same reason we want to have domestic help clean our houses and attain foreign education.  Never thought about it like this? It’s just something we’ve taken for granted for we have been conditioned to think in this manner through the years.

The power of influence cannot be overemphasized. As humans, we aspire to be someone and achieve certain goals. And anyone who seems to be able to help us achieve them or simply even believes in us holds the power to influence us. Like a celebrity endorsing a beauty product. Excuse me for treading on shallow waters but we all aspire to look a certain way. When a celebrity, who looks like you wish to, endorses a product that claims to sell ‘beauty’, he influences you to buy it. That is the power of influence in its most obvious form. However, it can make itself felt subtly too. Parents use it all the time.

“Beta, you should really do engineering”

“I don’t think I’ll be good enough, I can’t deal with science.”

“No, no, of course you can do it. And it’s such a lucrative profession.”

On the surface, it looks like they’re trying to boost your confidence and rid you of your self-doubt. However, don’t you feel like it’s a subtle form of influence? And who can influence us more than our parents? Any person we believe is stronger, more powerful, more persevering or just generally better placed than we are has the ability to influence us.

I have a question, though. Isn’t our belief that someone is above us simply in our head? Isn’t it a notion that exists only because we have created a life for it? Sure, we have been unconsciously conditioned to believe that those with lighter skin are superior to us. It might not apply to everyone but I’m confident all of us can name at least five people (probably ourselves included?) whose behaviour drastically changes when they meet a foreigner on the street. But all humans were and are created equal. Certain circumstances and mind-sets have made us develop the concepts of superiority and inferiority. It’s all in the head. And as we read more, we develop the ability to think rationally. We have our own set of thoughts and opinions which are formed after consideration of multiple factors. It takes time and effort for us to believe in certain values and establish them as principles for ourselves. And after all this effort, why do we let certain people shake our strong beliefs and values? Even if they are able to make us look at things from their point of view for a while, we possess the ability to judge and be rational. We should have strong reasons for doing whatever it is that we do and believing in whatever we believe. I’m not saying influence is necessarily a bad thing. But before we let it sway us, we must consider it quite critically. Nobody knows us as well as we do, they haven’t spent their lives in our head.

So while my intentions might have been to influence you a little bit with this post, I urge you to consider it before you letting my opinion change the direction of your thoughts. We are more than what we have been conditioned to believe. We are more than other’s opinions on our lives. And if we want to be influenced, why not let ourselves be our greatest influence? Get influenced by your dreams and ideas and goals and wishes. Let them motivate you. And whatever you do, know that it will influence the course of history if you let it.