Highway by Imtiaz Ali, which I was watching last night, depicts Stockholm Syndrome with just the right amount of aggression, running away from realism and delicacy of ties between the hostage and captor. What I wondered after watching the movie was if this psychological phenomenon is present in all of us because of the structure of society we function in, though may be in an inconspicuous manner.
The basic premise of Stockholm Syndrome is hostages mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. During my childhood, umpteen times have I read stories which portrayed a prince who used to share his meal with the stableman’s son as a kind and noble gentleman. Isn’t it right to say that the stableman and his son are mistaking his absence of adherence to the ways of royalty for an act of magnanimity. On the same lines, a mother-in-law who loves her daughter-in-law is remarkable, a guy who never leaches at girls is ethical and a government officer who doesn’t ask for bribes is pompously honest. If I break it down to the core, a person who is in a relative position of power as per societal norms and can do something to harm or belittle the other one but refrains from doing so is considered admirable.
Also, people who often feel helpless or stressful in life-situations outside their bondage are more susceptible to developing Stockholm Syndrome. This is partially attributable to the examples mentioned above and likewise. A girl feeling helpless by incessant nasty stares in a bus will find some comfort by spotting a guy who isn’t doing so. Our classical conditioning trains us to view a particular societal role in its stereotypical light. A prince is supposed to be distinguished and special. If his actions break that aura of distinction even momentarily, it’ll mean a lot to his servants who otherwise live under a constant stress of being admonished if they make even the slightest mistake.
In this world of constant tussle between equality and efficiency, some people will have to go out of their way to prove their generosity to others and some people will end up feeling obligated because of certain gestures by the so-called powerful ones. And till some people at both the ends of spectrum continue doing so, this fine balance will be maintained.