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The power of meme

A meme is an idea that is propagated through communication between people and has the power to change the world

WE ALL know that each cell in our body replicates itself steered by its DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid); it transfers genetic characteristics from one cell to the other and happens in all life forms.

Virus and bacteria, upon entering a living organism, alter these cells affecting or infecting them - altering the cell's structure, behaviour and function.

Now you are thinking, "What has it got to do with human interaction? Where is the connection"? Here is the connection. Just as the "virus" infects and alters the cells, an "idea virus" can infect your mind and alter your attitude and behaviour. What we are talking about is the concept of "Meme".

The term "meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene where it is explained as a contagious idea that replicates like a virus, passed on from mind to mind. Meme functions the same way as genes and viruses - propagating through communication between people.

When we hear, or read about a good idea, we pass it on to our friends and family who in turn propagate it to their set of friends and colleagues.

Spreading from brain to brain, the idea catches on and propagates itself, finally permeating an entire society who, in turn pass it from one generation to the next. Neat, isn't it?

Individual slogans, catch phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions are typical memes, just as the time-tested manners, customs and traditions.

The caveat here is that - an idea or information, just by itself, is not a meme until it causes people to replicate and repeat it to other people who in turn adopt that thought and replicate, repeat, so on and so forth.

The key characteristic of a meme is that it is propagated by imitation.

Whatever we learn by observing someone else is potentially a meme. Observing is not limited to just seeing, it also includes hearing and reading. The memetic process is powerful and can change our world with ideas to make it a better one.

To push our wishful thinking forward, imagine the power each and everyone has, to get the memetic process going. In this there is no room for apathy or resignation.

Think about it, your ideas and actions infecting people, altering their attitude, their knowledge and their behaviour! Fantastic if done with care, devastating when no one cares.

Maybe changing the society might seem like an unrealistic and daunting task. We can get the ball rolling right in our homes since that is the nucleus of a society. Children are always observing and learning something from our words and actions.

They learn from seeing, hearing and overhearing adults. Now you know where the unacceptable behaviour we witness in the larger society got started.

The best way to encourage our children to become responsible towards, people, places and time, is to act as responsibly as we can in their presence in these situations.

We can show them by our words and by our actions that we respect others. They need to see our own self-control, courage, and honesty.

As our children watch us daily, as we talk to them, encouraging their questions and trying to answer them thoughtfully, they begin to understand us — and we begin to understand them.

Understanding each other well is the best way to teach our children respect for our ideals of good character.


(The writer is the director of ProEt Centre for International Protocol and Etiquette. Ph: 23372004/ 55503605; e-mail:

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