Breaking Up with Your Favourite Subject

when your mind needs more answers

"What's your favourite subject?"

Kids get this question all the time. I wonder why it is rarely posed to adults. I guess it gets replaced by the more practical "What do you do? (so that I can appropriately judge you..)"

Anywho. Let's say you asked me that question. I would announce, "Sociology!". The study of society is my absolute favourite. At least it was, until recently.

It has been 9 years since I completed a B.A. in Sociology. I remember how it swept me off my feet when I was planning to do a polite B.A. in English Literature. I remember how the sunlight fell on my Sociology teacher's beautiful hands. She was describing the layered structure of societies. Within a year of Sociology 101, I could make sense of 18 years of anguish. I could answer questions I had carried for years. I spoke to my friends into the night about how our society is, and how it could be. I felt sure it will teach me more about poetry than what a degree in literature could.

I was in love. I immersed myself in understanding power and patriarchy, capitalism and caste society. Sociology introduced me to my future spaces of work. I used a sociological lens for years after graduation. It aided me in writing my master’s thesis on love and feminism, researching media consumption, working in the education sector.

It was when I started mixing sociology with social media, that things started to change.

First, it was thrilling. I felt electrified to connect with people based on shared opinions about our society. It was like being back in the classroom. Except it was nothing like a classroom. The more I discussed social issues on social media, the more I felt disconnected from myself.

Sociology taught me social justice and empathy. It taught me sociological imagination, the art of putting myself in the shoes of others. I learned and practiced this, never stopping to understand my own roots, to ground myself in my own shoes. It gave me tomes and theories to understand society, but little to make sense of my first social unit, my family. It refused to help me understand my inner world. I could not understand the teeming society of voices in my head. I could not even recognize the way I dominate weaker parts of myself and ostracise them every day.

At some point, my mind and body started hurting, my pain and anxiety reared their ugly heads. But my favourite discipline refused to answer my questions. I had no clue why people could be both kind yet cruel, privileged and yet excluded, rich and yet suffering. What to do with to attend to that which is not social...which is so personal that it is anti-social...questions of shame and sorrow...questions that need philosophical and poetic answers... - I asked and asked, sociology kept mum.

After studying the outward society, it was time to go inward. I could see the cost of neglecting psychology and biology. I wish I knew the history of the human species. I wondered about the many people in the social sector who could be so abusive behind doors. They could act like messiahs and issue speeches and rants about the ills of society. But they never worked with their own shadows, the sadistic parts of themselves. They routinely hurt others to gain power. I didn't want to be like that, a social crusader who rots inside. It was time to disconnect from my favourite subject.

Since half of the women in our country don’t even have access to Higher Ed, this break-up seemed dramatic and unnecessary. Yet it was sad, like losing a person. I worried I will lose the gifts of sociology. I will probably lose friends who shared this love for social justice.

Desperate, I asked sociology, "Can we still be friends?". For my survival and growth - I asked sociology to scoot a little. I made space on my mental couch. For holistic psychology, for the biology of the mind-body connection, for poetry and philosophy, for home science. I need more than one lens to understand this world, to go outside in and inside out. I need more shelves and sections for my inner library. Maybe you too have had to do this kind of reorganization.

So is that also why they don't ask “What's your favourite subject?” to adults? Because those who have truly grown up will insist on a multidisciplinary way of learning life.

Some Words Wriggling in My Mind:

  1. “Trauma decontextualized in a person looks like personality. Trauma decontextualized in a family looks like family traits. Trauma in a people looks like culture.” - Resmaa Menakem on On Being

  2. “Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a state of the mind.” - Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

  3. On the interrogation of your darkness -

  1. Just the headline of this news report: At Agra mental health institute, no one forgets to wear mask — even patients with dementia

  2. In this video, the author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman talks about the three kinds of focus — self, other and outer — as a new approach to education.