The phrase, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ means it is polite and possibly advantageous to abide by the customs of a society when one is a visitor.
It is also taken to mean following others for the sake of conformity and convenience, and to avoid unnecessary exertions.
In this loose interpretation, it is adopted as a philosophy of life by many people. They believe in following current trends without using their scruples too much, as it is easier to go along with the crowd than invite curiosity, ridicule or opposition. It definitely is an attractive proposition, as one can escape potential embarrassment and hostility.
But, such thinking and course of action also condemn one to mediocrity and are unlikely to help one achieve anything exceptional. Anyone who wishes to do something worthwhile in life has to do it on the foundation of sound principles and character. This may involve swimming against the tide. Conforming to what everyone else is doing may mean compromising on one’s principles, and even ethics.
Living such a life may be easy, but it does involve the realisation, even if momentary, that one has given up one’s values so as not to uncomfortably stand out from the crowd. It is values that make life worth living, and preserving them enriches it even if no one around us appreciates those values.
One who embodies values is a source of strength and inspiration for others and is vindicated sooner or later. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.”
Truth has such power that it manifests itself without anyone having to prove it. Living by high ideals may not be a bed of roses and one may have to face a lot of opposition for persisting on a path that looks irrational to others, but that is the price one has to pay for having a clear conscience and the knowledge and satisfaction that one is on the right path.
History is full of examples of men and women who were little appreciated in their lifetime for their ideas and actions, but were later recognised as outstanding souls. Even man’s scientific progress has been made possible by individuals who challenged prevailing dogmas and conventional ways of thinking to reveal the truth.
Physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy and sentenced to house arrest for supporting the view that the earth moved around the sun and not vice versa, while philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno was convicted of the same offence and burnt at the stake for his scientific and religious beliefs.
Certain principles and values are what keep us human. Their benefits may be intangible at times, but together they form the foundation of a civilised society.
Modern scientific research and management practices encourage original and ‘out of the box’ thinking to find innovative and effective solutions to problems. But, while such non-conformity is welcomed for the practical benefits it brings, when it comes to upholding values that may no longer be fashionable, surrender is the first choice of many.
This is because we do not know the value of what we are giving up. Certain principles and values are what keep us human. Their benefits may be intangible at times, but together they form the foundation of a civilised society. The gradual abandonment of values in the pursuit of unrestrained self-indulgence is now recognised as a contributory factor behind many of the social ills afflicting modern societies.
When we swim against the tide to preserve and uphold values that we cherish and that we know to be right, we save ourselves from going down the drain to decadence. Heeding our conscience and acting by our best instincts enhances our moral strength and power of judgment. This enables us to make the right choices in situations that test our character and good sense.
A sound character and judgment help keep us on the righteous path in life, saving us from slips and pitfalls that often ruin the lives and reputations of even brilliant individuals. When we follow the guidance of our inner voice, it brings great peace of mind as it averts inner conflict. This helps us to remain stable, light and happy. Such a state of mind has a positive impact on our thoughts, speech, behaviour and actions, and creates an attractive aura around us.
Such a person is a source of strength and joy for others and thereby wins their goodwill, love and cooperation, as also the blessings of God, who is the ocean of all virtues. God always sides with truth. As they say, truth is God. His company and protection ensure that those who remain good in the face of opposition from circumstances and people ultimately emerge victorious. Their resolve may get tested but, as someone has said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’.