What is habit in an individual becomes custom when followed by a people. Man is by nature imitative. He follows the beaten track. This is way a custom so easily establishes it authority and sway upon him. His daily life is ruled by routine,—monotonous round of duties dictated by habit and enforced by custom. This becomes his way of life lived under pressure. After all, people are known by the customs they observe, for these give them character.
Customs, however, becomes a tyrant when they insist on observance unreasonably; prevent free thought and restrains freedom of action. Too much subservience to customs makes a society stagnates, thereby affecting natural mobility and irrigation attitude to life.
Thus, a Hindu is ruled by old customs in such matters as marriage or mourning or similar social ceremonies, even though times have changed, and such customs have become highly inconvenient. The tyranny of customs is also seen when a man allows himself to be compelled by custom to exceed his means and incurs needless expenditure; or again, when it forces him to do something against his will or reason.
Custom dies hard. We follow a custom through sheer inertia. We abdicate our personality, and mechanically follow the line of least resistance. It weakens our moral stamina. As a result, we are led to avoid situations which call upon us to act boldly, to be leaders, instead of being led. That is why Tennyson said that even a good custom may corrupt the world. Those who have been pioneers and leaders of men have never been afraid of following where reason led, and not what customs dictated. The great American thinker, Emerson said, “Whosoever should be great must be a non-conformist.”
Customs are not all bad. In a very real sense it stabilizes one’s national character. The way we greet stranger, or treat our fellowmen or the way we order of life, are all matters of customs. They are the characteristic elements that give individually to people. We should only get rid of those customs which make us narrow-minded, superstitious, prejudiced and insular. The only way of overcoming the tyranny of these customs is to exercise our reason. Customs, when men were guided by instinct, non-reason is our presiding deity.