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What drives a person to end his or her own life?

On BBC “Reporters” last night – I was watching a special report on what has become Japan’s favorite pastime after Sumo-wrestling and Sashimi. Seppuku (Ritual Suicide). I sat there on my sofa with a spoonful of food stuck midway between the plate and my mouth, in shock, as I heard that one in five Japanese adults have seriously considered ending their lives. Ninety of them end up doing it every day. Last year there were more than 35000 suicides in Japan – the highest by far in the developed world.

Though there are many sociological theories on why a seemingly prosperous population is so prone to suicide – the fact of the matter is that ending ones life is an acceptable act in Japanese society. This is a society that hold’s honor above all else. This is a society that does not forgive a person’s failure – whether or not that person was responsible for that failure. But that does not justify seppuku. I suspect there is a deeper social malaise at play. The same kind that has driven up suicide rates in Scandinavian countries – no opportunity or will to struggle and fight. Comfort, processes and societal conformity are given so much importance – that the concept of struggling for something, or dreaming about something is more-or-less alien for these people.

How long do you think a lion cub will live if it is fed all his life – and does not have to hunt for food? There is a reason why animals which have spent a long time in captivity have listless eyes. Young people in economically developed nations such as Japan – find themselves without self-direction and hence without an identity. Without a self-purpose, without opportunities for self-actualization – where does one find a masthead to hold on to, during tough times? It is clear that the battles in life which matter are the ones you fight inside your head… not the ones you fight outside.

I am not suggesting that everyone must be made to struggle and that our poor farmers in Vidharba have it good… What I am suggesting is that competition is healthy for a society – as it is for a market. As an Indian I know and recognize the value of always being on the top of my game. I know that I will be a better person – because I have to fight 10000 others to secure my seat in college. It gives me self confidence – and a base of self-purpose and self-fulfillment that carries me through tough times.

We all have felt desperate or devastated at some point in our lives. Atleast I know I have. But every such episode strengthened me. I always realized that I was bigger and stronger than the situation. No matter what happens externally, or no matter who does what to me – nothing can touch my soul – because that is mine.

I realize that the sun rises every morning for me to see and bask in. I realize that no matter how small, my contribution, my sweat adds to the salt of the earth. My being alive is necessary for the world to go round. And when my journey ends – it will be because I would have paid my dues and imparted my contribution to the world, and to society. If you are Japanese (or anyone contemplating ending it all) and you are reading this – think about it. You are here – as I am – for a reason. It is ok if you do not know what that reason is – that’s why you undertake this journey called life. It will always be worth it, in the end.

Quit Seppuku…go have a Sake! Cheers!

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