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Main regret in life - the Western bias

Most books on Psychology are written by Western authors and their main audience that they want to cater to are the people in their countries. The research, survey are all done with a limited number of people in their country. When we read these books we have to keep it in our mind that the research is from a different culture and may not apply to other cultures. In the Western culture the individual is a unit whereas, in places like India, a family is still the main unit. When there is a clash between the needs of the individual and the needs of the family, it is often the latter that wins over in our culture. Although it is told as a joke there is a lot of truth in the statement, “Here you don’t marry an individual but you marry into a family.”

Recently I was reading about a survey that asked people who either were on the verge of death or were very senior citizens what the one big regret in their lives was. The author concluded at the end of the survey that the main regret for most people was that they did not spend time with their loved ones. They all wished they had spent a greater time with the family. The author went on to advise that we should spend greater time with the family to avoid this regret.

If we take this piece of advice blindly, we may be very confused in India. On many counts, such surveys portray inaccurate conclusions. Many of their conclusions do not apply to our culture at all. Our culture is still a very strong family-oriented culture. We are moving slowly towards the ‘individual is supreme’ kind of culture but are very far from there. Most of us spend a lot of time with our family. It is not just the nuclear family. We do keep in touch with our parents, siblings and children regularly. If we are in the same city there are also a lot of personal meetings. We do have many occasions when we meet for marriages, festivals and other times.

In our culture, it may be difficult for many people to get away from family, in fact. Some people do get overwhelmed by attending to the needs of the family. So obviously if such a survey was conducted here about the main regret in life, I don’t expect it to turn up the answer, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.” There may be other regrets like, “I wish I had taken up a career”, “I wish I had joined a job earlier”, “I wish I had pursued my interests” etc.

Later life regrets will always be about something one has not done in life. It won’t be the same for everyone.

Psychology cannot exist independent of culture. While it is great to read all the books we can lay our hands-on, it is vital to think, does this apply in our culture? Am I importing an idea from a different world which does not apply here? If it does not work here, no matter how good the idea, no matter how great or renowned the author, we should put the idea away with the thought, “Not in our culture.”

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