Live and let Live
[Vinod Anand]

Are you taking someone’s life without even being aware of it? You might be doing just that, as the following true-life story illustrates.

A father was telling his graduate son what career the young man should pursue. The son listened to what his father had to say and then, very respectfully, replied, “You’ve lived your life and now you want to live mine.

That is, while you’ll get to live two lives, yours and mine, I’ll get to live no life at all. Why do you want to take my life from me?”

This story had a happy ending. The father allowed his son to pursue his own choice of career, which the young man did with great success. But, most importantly, he got to live his own life, and not have it taken away from him by his well-meaning father. Without being aware of it, all of us try to take away the lives of other people, more often than not for the most well-intentioned of reasons.

We try to take away the lives of our children, or our spouses, or our friends, or others we come in contact with. We try to take away their lives from them by wanting them to do not what they might want to do, but what we want them to do. We want them to live not how they would chose to live, but how we think they should live.

We want to live their lives as well as live our own. We might genuinely have at heart the best interests of those whose lives we seek to lead. But no matter how laudable – and indeed sensible, from the practical point of view – our intervention in seeking to live someone else’s life for them might be, it still amounts to our leading two, or more, lives at the expense of those whose lives we metaphorically take away from them.

One of the most forceful champions of the inalienable right of individuals to live their lives according to their legitimate and lawful inclinations was the moral philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Kant’s famous ‘categorical imperative’ forms the foundation of almost all modern discourse on morality and ethics, including the principle of universal human rights. Shorn of the technical jargon much loved by philosophers – Kant being no exception to this rule – the ‘categorical imperative’, the moral compass, which must guide us in all our dealings with our fellow human beings, be they family and friends or total strangers, is that we must treat all individuals as ends in themselves, and not as means to an end that we desire of them.

Our children, our family members, and the lives they lead are ends in themselves, and not a means by which we can lead surrogate lives through them.

Does this mean that we should not give practical advice to people in order to save them from possible harm? Of course not. If a child is about to put her hand on a red-hot tawa which will burn her we are morally obliged not only to advise her not to do so, but to yank her hand away from danger.

Similarly, if we know that someone is willfully about to break the law, or risk exposure to disease by unhealthy habits such as smoking, we would be failing our moral duty if we didn’t try to prevent them from doing so.

The moral of the story is, live your own life, and let others live theirs. In simple, un-Kantian language, live and let live. Not live and let die.

Author's Bio: 


Born in 1939, and holding Master’s Degree both in Mathematics (1959) and Economics (1961), and Doctorate Degree in Economics (1970), Dr. Vinod K.Anand has about forty five years of teaching, research, and project work experience in Economic Theory (both micro and macro), Quantitative Economics, Public Economics, New Political Economy, and Development Economics with a special focus on economic and social provisions revolving around poverty, inequality, and unemployment issues, and also on informal sector studies. His last assignment was at the National University of Lesotho (Southern Africa) from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he was placed as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of North-West in the Republic of South Africa, and University of Allahabad in India, Professor at the National University of Lesotho, Associate Professor at the University of Botswana, Gaborone in Botswana, and at Gezira University in Wad Medani, Sudan, Head, Department of Arts and Social Sciences, Yola in Nigeria, Principal Lecturer in Economics at Maiduguri University in Nigeria, and as Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria. Professor Anand has by now published more than 80 research papers in standard academic journals, authored 11 books, supervised a number of doctoral theses, was examiner for more than twenty Ph.D. theses, and has wide consultancy experience both in India and abroad, essentially in the African continent. This includes holding the position of Primary Researcher, Principal Consultant etc. in a number of Research Projects sponsored and funded by Universities, Governments, and International Bodies like, USAID, IDRC, and AERC. His publications include a variety of themes revolving around Economic Theory, New Political Economy, Quantitative Economics, Development Economics, and Informal Sector Studies. His consultancy assignments in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana, and the Republic of South Africa include Non-Directory Enterprises in Allahabad, India, Small Scale Enterprises in the Northern States of Nigeria, The Absolute Poverty Line in Sudan, The Small Scale Enterprises in Wad Medani, Sudan, Micro and Small Scale Enterprises in Botswana, The Place of Non-Formal Micro-Enterprises in Botswana, Resettlement of a Squatter Community in the Vryburg District of North West Province in the Republic of South Africa, Trade and Investment Development Programme for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises: Support for NTSIKA in the Republic of South Africa, and Development of the Manufacturing Sector in the Republic of South Africa’s North West Province: An Approach Based on Firm Level Surveys. Professor Anand has also extensively participated in a number of conferences, offered many seminars, participated in a number of workshops, and delivered a variety of Refresher Lectures at different venues both in India and abroad. Dr. Anand was placed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in the State Himachal Pradesh, India as a Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and had completed a theoretical and qualitative research project/monograph on the Employment Profile of Micro Enterprises in the State of Himachal Pradseh, India.