Wednesday, April 11, 2018


A pundit in linguistics was compiling a dictionary in the light of the midnight lamp. There was a creak as the back door opened. “Who is that?” asked the pundit. ‘Cho’ answered the door. The pundit did not know the correct meaning. Being meticulous he consumed different dictionaries. As he gave up, there was another creak as the back door closed. “Again, who is that?” asked the pundit. ‘Rah’ answered the door. The challenge was too much. The pundit rapidly raced through the pages of the dictionaries, again with no result. With bleary eyes and disheveled hair he paced the house far into the morning after the sun had risen. Light dawned on the pundit. ‘Cho’, ‘rah’ together meant chorah - robber. How much cash is lost and how many robbers escape while we quarrel with words!

Carl Spitzweg - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
The definition of mental health, very often, and to a large extent, depends on the culture which produces it. For the American, constant, vigorous striving for change to better material conditions of satisfying desires is an important component of mental health. For the Englishman, humour; for the German it is a passion or detailed hard work; for the Japanese an extreme sensitivity to personal self-esteem; and perhaps, for the Indian, contentment under all conditions. 

Moreover, some cultures are statistically oriented. That is to say, for them a person is in good mental health if he or she is like every other John or Jean of the same status in the neighbourhood. Economic self-sufficiency, capacity to take pleasure in occasional gossip, moderate addiction to alcohol, God and morals is one norm. Christ and Gandhi become abnormals, fit subjects for sarcastic humour or polite patronage. There is a great fear of being different from your neighbour.

"Gandhi spinning" by Unknown - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Other cultures are identically oriented. Mental Health, then, becomes an ideal to strive for and to achieve. Computer calculated averages of behaviour do not call for emulation. Striving towards the ideal even at the risk of being different from the neighbor becomes praiseworthy even if unsuccessful.

Devotion to statistical norms in mental health has certain gross contradictions. We do not calculate the average knowledge in physics of the average man on the road and then appoint a professor in space physics who corresponds to this average norm. It would be ridiculous and cause disasters.

In the field of human behaviour we are putting ‘average behaviour’ on the pedestal and look surprised at the disasters. Much money and mathematical zeal is being utilised in mental health institutions all over the world to dig out details about the average man and woman and give a scientific coating to this pedestal. Mass disasters, like widespread juvenile hooliganism, and wars are then to be taken as natural, normal phenomena, scientifically proved to be average normal features and hence legitimate behaviour.

Mental health concepts, therefore, should be examined against the cultural background in which they have arisen. The serious contradictions involved in taking ‘average behaviour’ as the norm has to be recognised.

The Indian culture pays attention to the ideal norm of its culture and striving towards that ideal is considered by even the average person as an important component of sound mental health. For an Indian, to be or to become a good Indian is the first step towards sound mental health. A man who does not know how to swim in his own village pond is not likely to succeed in the ocean.

Some items of interest will be further considered.

Discussions on mental health must take note of the essential properties of the human nervous system. These can be summarised as under:-

1. An almost unlimited possibility of progress and maturation

A tree or an animal matures into a fully developed independent unit within a few years of its birth. Its behaviour reaches the near perfection possible for its species and remains constant. The human being even at twenty may not have attained physical and economic individuality. As far as total possibilities of behaviour are concerned a man may not have reached the limit even at hundred.

The human nervous system is capable of registering constant modificatoion and ceaseless improvement in its operations.

A person seeking good mental health must be aware of this great potentiality for change.

2. Man’s relations with the material world are indirect and are socially learned and highly variable

When an animal is hungry it eats any food suitable for its species. Its sexual hunger is fulfilled in the same way.

Man’s reactions to hunger can be unlimited. He may be hungry but may die rather than eat meat, beef or pork. He may be hungry but go on fast and die for his cause. He may not be hungry at all but still eat a good meal. This applies to sex as well as to any other so called needs.

Man has needs and desires as have animals. But a close examination shows that his behaviour need not necessarily be determined by them. In extreme famine you may see one mother snatch away the food morsel from her own child. In the very same place you may see a woman dying having given away her own portions to the child. Thus, while the animal's reaction to desire (need) is predictable a man’s reaction to desire (need) is not so easily predictable.

For good mental health a person must become aware of the fact that the human nervous system makes it possible for man to be the master and not the slave of his desires or needs.

3. Man is a highly programmed instrument

Man’s nervous system is highly complex and cannot function efficiently without a programme. Much of the programme is already set by the conditions in which it is born and develops - what to eat, what language to speak, which God or Devil to follow. Soon, man is confronted by other programmes - from school, from newspaper, cinema and radio.

Man’s nervous system makes it possible to scrutinise, accept or reject this mass or pressures, But most naturally he falls a passive victim to the strongest and most popularised programme of the street. He consequently suffers from the strongest and most popular conflicts, diseases and disorders. A little patient study shows that man’s nervous system can assess past and present experience and set a healthy programme for the future.

All programming means time and discrimination. A radio-television set will produce nothing but a chaotic mumbojumbo of sound and colour if it receives all present wavelengths and also retains a mass of waves received at different times. A radio-television set has only a dozen or so cells. The human nervous system has billions of receiving and organising clls. Mental health means good programming. Good programming means constant, ceaseless discrimination and timing.

If you get up every morning and swear your determination to be an average man on the road you will succeed without doubt. Moreover, if you are not careful you need not swear at all, you will automatically come to the lowest common average in behaviour since that is the dominant programme in the air.

For good mental health, a person must daily, ceaselessly become aware of a programme for the better, must be aware of his yesterday, today and possible tomorrow. Otherwise his mental health will inevitably be that of the lowest common order.

4. Man’s mental health is not identical with good physical health

A healthy mind in a healthy body usually applies to the animal. This is not necessarily so with a man. It is good to have a healthy body but it does not automatically produce a healthy mind or mental level behavour. A man may have rippling muscles, an excellent appetite, the strength of Hercules and the beauty of Apollo, but he may be the very Devil. Another man may be racked with tuberculosis and emaciation, yet display very noble qualities. Mind and body do react on one another but this is not an automatic relation. Within the mind itself, the nervous system provides for different units of behaviour like memory, intelligence, affection etc.

There are higher and lower laws - physical, chemical, biological, social, mental, spiritual. These are interrelated but also distinct, and sometimes relatively independent. It is necessary to explore, experience and develop the various facets for good integration.

Good mental health requires special education and careful cultivation as does good physical health. Good mental health become the bridge between good physical health and sound spiritual possibilities.

5. Man’s behaviour is highly contagious

Man’s nervous system is such that it quickly reflects, responds and reverberates the behaviour of its neighbour, or even the general atmosphere of the place. One angry or unhappy or anxious man quickly produces similar reactions in those around him. Unfortunately composure, cheer and compassion are more difficult to transmit. The lower reflexes require less energy and effort. Unless effort and energy are expended water finds its lowest level. Fear , anger, depression and anxiety are more contagious and deadly than smallpox.

For good mental health man must become aware of this social property of his nervous system - its capacity to put out vibrations for good or for bad, and influence others.

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