We vs. Them


“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” 

                                                                                               ~Franklin Thomas, 1964 AD

On the screen, I hear the father of slain Indian student Anuj Bidve speak, “The world is finished for us – that is all I can say,” Anuj, a post graduate student , had been shot in the head  by a man describing himself as “Psycho Stapleton” in Manchester in a mindless act of violence. Seeing the old parents forlornly trying to cope with the loss of their only child, an indescribable feeling of sadness engulfs me.

The incident is being described as a Race attack. One of the many similar attacks that have plagued newly arrived immigrants and students in the UK, US, Australia over the years. Many reasons are up for debate. Is this an anger against new residents getting access to “scarce” resources which otherwise was the prerogative of the old community? Are these attacks a sign of increasingly disaffected youth with limited work and employment opportunities? Are these problems temporary and would “go away” once the incoming folks integrate with the community at large? Was the victim at the wrong place at the wrong time? There is much talk regarding strategies needed to reduce such race attacks through community development and deterrent police measures.

As I reflect, I wonder if these underlying beliefs about race attacks are not merely chasing the symptoms rather than trying to unearth the core cause. And if this be so, would the strategies being talked of be really effective?

What makes a person, without provocation, brutally attack and kill another fellow human? Is this from a distorted self image, itself a product of a distorted belief and need system? Or is it due to an egoistic self- centricity, a product of a selfish and materialistic world? To my mind, these aspects are responsible for much of the created sufferings in the world. These become the arrogant starting points that separate us from others. These make us feel that others are a threat and that the world is a hostile place. We get forced into undesirable behaviour – reacting to others’ words or actions. We end up needlessly competing, being envious or judgmental and feeling threatened by others’ successes.

So what can we do? I believe the strategy needs to start from within. We need to look inside, increase our self awareness. It is this awareness that aligns us with our inner values and brings lightness and a sense of purpose. It is in this space that our ego starts subsiding. Freeing us from that endless loop of Desire and Dissatisfaction, Freeing us from that eternal hunt and chase mindset.

“What is tolerance?  It is the consequence of humanity.  We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”            

                                                                                                               –  Voltaire, 1764 AD

In Learning…………..                            Shakti Ghosal

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Oh! To be still……..


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

                                                                   Robert Frost, 1923.

                                                                             

We hurtle faster and faster. To keep pace with a changing world, a morphing society. To keep up with the Joneses. All around us are triggers to keep us in action. Project deadlines at the workplace. To do lists stuck on the refrigerator door. Management seminars extolling the virtues of proactive action and business initiatives. Weekly coaching sessions empowering us to move towards the rainbow of purpose and goals.

As I watch the TV screen, I find more prejudices against inaction. As protests and deaths in the country continue unabated,Syria is warned of inaction by the Arab league, Americans say that they just cannot have any further inaction by Washington as health insurance costs skyrocket. In India, Anna Hazare and his team accuse the Government of inaction to introduce a strong anti-corruption legislation.

Awhile back, I had read about a little known but interesting incident of the Second World War in which afterFrance’s surrender to the German forces in June 1940, a large part of the French navy positioned elsewhere at Gibraltar remained frozen in inaction and refused to follow the Allies instructions. Till they were bombed and fired upon by the British navy!

So is inaction always bad? And why do we sometimes freeze up and halt all action as the French naval commander had done?  I ponder as I try to find some answers. If action signifies moving forward towards light and a better future, does it imply that inaction means something backward and worse? Unfortunately, in today’s materialistic and achievement oriented world and society, this is the belief that stands constantly reinforced. So as we love to show our own “bias for action”, we lump all inaction with lethargy and vacuousness.

But does action always imply moving forward? Does it always demand achievement of discernible goals?  Our perception, fed on a diet of instant gratification, equates action to goal achievement. But does this not detract from the importance of the action steps, the empowerment of the action journey? And does this not lead us to judge the other person by results rather than the path he follows?

And what about inaction? Does it always signify the stillness of the unborn, the slowing down of atoms, the dissipation of energy?  What if there indeed be intrinsic positivity in the stillness of no action? In the Chinese Tao philosophy, wei wu wei means “action without action”. As we observe, we reflect. As we comprehend, we try to make sense of it all. As we strategise, we commit our intentions. Do we realise that goal achievement and critical perspective shifts usually flow from such moments of contemplative inaction?

I believe much of the world’s misconceptions arise due to a lack of understanding of what action truly signifies. And the news stories above underscore this point. So how do we differentiate between the inaction of no action and the stillness of “making sense of it all”?

Simply put, inaction occurs from a fear of the unknown, of leaving our comfort zone. From remaining stuck due to our underlying beliefs (UBs). So the sooner we get down to confronting our fears, unpacking the baggage of our UBs and letting them go, that much faster we regain our airy fairy childhood state of unhampered curiosity and motion.

But when we stand still to ‘make sense of it all”, we do not really choose to move. We seek instead the solace of something still, something changeless, something which will anchor us from the slippery slopes of uncertainty. Like a sheet of still water reflecting back and providing reassurance of our own inherent changelessness. As we visualise the road forward with intention to act and bring in the change.

So, as the world around us moves in an ever maddening whirl, do we retain the conviction to find the balance between the still and restful “woods” of our inner reflections and the “promises to keep’ of our societal actions? And the wonderment and pleasure of the “miles to go” journey itself?

In Learning……………

                                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

Clash of our pillar beliefs?


It is early days yet of the twenty first century. And while we look forward with hope to human development and new fangled wonders that the future would bring, we also remain rooted to our pillar beliefs which have stood us in good stead. So what are these beliefs?

Pillar belief one: Capitalism remains the panacea for economic development. Capitalism fosters and aligns with Man’s inherent nature to create and innovate for his own benefit.It thus spawns and rewards entrepreneurs. As economic activity expands, so does work and jobs. We hold the belief that Capitalism leads to pulling up of the lower economic strata by the shoe laces. Through more employment and “trickle down” distribution of wealth.

Pillar belief two: Technology facilitates economic development through higher productivity and process efficiency. History has shown that while in the short term, technology may take over repetitive work and jobs, it ends up creating more jobs requiring different and higher competences.

 Though mutually exclusive, both Capitalism and Technology collaborated towards job and wealth creations throughout human society. Until yesterday………..

So what has changed? For the first time in history, technology has evolved to a self sustaining state where it now is able to create wealth without creating jobs. At a subterranean level, technology is clicking and whirring away as it takes care of vast tracts of economic activity 24X7. So today, wealth creation may no longer be an issue but wealth distribution sure is.

Is this a malaise? If it is, symptoms of it are everywhere. As wealth gets created, it gets aggrandized by the CEOs and leaders who envision implementing of technology and cutting of jobs and costs. And so under the protective umbrella of capitalism, we are witness to those huge bonuses and golden parachutes for business honchos and top bankers while “We the 99%” need to make do with largely stagnant pay packets.

Do we realise that Capitalism, the Ayn Rand propagated 20th century pillar belief, possibly for the first time, is no longer “pulling up the lower economic strata by the shoe laces”? On the contrary, it is taking the refuge of technology to increase disparities between the Haves and Have-nots.

A clash of our long held beliefs?

So how do we ensure an equitable distribution of wealth? And how do we do this so that the intrinsic quality of life continues to improve, the initiative taking and creative abilities continue to flower? Frankly I do not profess to have an answer. But I can envision some broad directions and perspective shifts that may be needed.

Can we afford to be purists and let Capitalism and Technology be absolute? And what are these purist beliefs?

  • That “Governments need to adopt a laissez faire stance in economics and commerce”.
  • That “all subsidies need to be frowned upon”.
  • That “cloning of technology in different parts of the world is the fastest route to development”.

But as we start thinking of these, do we not spot inherent contradictions within each of these that could self destruct the entire system?

With the turning screw of time, synergies can turn contrarian as we have witnessed above. And as we shift our perspective away from what we have been conditioned to believe, what could remain the bedrock for anchoring our purpose? Could we achieve this by fostering core values? Values such as   Sharing, Caring, Truth, Service to others and Sustainability?

“Predatory capitalism created a complex industrial system and an advanced technology; it permitted a considerable extension of democratic practice and fostered certain liberal values, but within limits that are now being pressed and must be overcome. It is not a fit system for this century.”

NOAM CHOMSKY

                                                                                                                       **************

In   Learning……………..                                                                       Shakti Ghosal

26.11 Mumbai and Harvard


 Recently, I chanced upon a report about Harvard Professor Rohit Deshpande’s research on what empowered the exceptional display of heroism by the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel staff during the 26/11 terrorist attacks inMumbai,Indiathree years back. Of incredible tales of hotel staff forming human shields to protect guests, some of them losing their own lives in the process.

Prof. Deshpande has found three HR practices relating to recruitment, training and staff recognition to which he ascribes the many uncommon acts of employee valour. But as I reflect on the report, I sense that the findings could be mere tip of the iceberg. Has the research truly been able to drill down to the reasons behind this clearly contradictory conception of human behaviour?

As I reflect some more, I wonder if it all comes down to how organisations think and act, how they relate to their employees. To most of us, an efficient organization is all about “command and control”, a heritage harking back to the industrial revolution. As organisations have continued to ramp up efficiencies, technology has taken centre stage with jobs getting more segmented and even expendable. Low qualification jobs have created disqualified humans. And the attendant social costs of a mentally dissatisfied and spiritually impoverished population are visible all over.

Other symptoms are there to see. Of organisations losing their life blood of core personnel and entrepreneurial energy.  As they try to meet future challenges by using a    “fix-it back to how it was” mindset. A mindset of a command and control Management which has become increasingly misaligned with today’s environment and technology evolution.

And how does all this look like at a macro level? The old economy “brick and mortar” structure which served us well over the last century in terms of standardisation, assembly line productivity, modular approach and cloned processes is in crisis. A crisis fuelled by uncertainty and unpredictability. Of an environment that is getting increasingly disconnected from the past, difficult to comprehend.

So I have this vision. A vision born of hope and positivity. Of organisations who believe in the strategy of the moment. Of a culture where creativity and flexibility replace detailed planning and control. Of the realisation that constant internal regeneration is necessary to keep up with rapid changes and discontinuity. Of managers with conviction that problems are but symptoms of needed change and not something that has “broken” and needs repair. Of leaders who know that things would never get back to the way they used to be but would change faster and faster.

So how can this vision be achieved? By dispensing with rigid job and task definitions and replacing these with strategic “positions” aligned to objectives and results. By empowering people to create their very own evolving job definition, pulsating with a changing environment. As gas fills up vacuum, as the cytoplasm fills up a living cell. And so no two job descriptions would be alike just as no two personnel are alike in terms of their thinking, values and beliefs they bring to the table.

So could this be the way we, the people, reclaim back the “heart of work” from clicking, repetitive technology? As we develop a messianic vision of our role and transform the organisational ethos to say that if one does not take initiatives, one simply does not have a job.

I believe in some unique way, the management of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai has been able to instill the above radical context of “work” into its employees. And have created a shared deep commitment to service and humanity. But has this been achieved through training and personnel development as the Harvard research opines? Or has it come from a moral energy at the core of the organisation consciousness? From a “caring and serving” value system flowing from the top and percolating through all levels? From sustaining a heritage that empowers people to “get out of their boxes” to creatively enrich, enlarge and connect?

No doubt, the world would be waiting to learn………………

In Learning……………………….

Shakti Ghosal

21st December 2012


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:

……………………..

…………………………

…………………………….

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

 

                                                                                                        Rudyard Kipling, 1895

   

Awhile back, a friend while commenting on an earlier blog, remarked, “I simply cannot stop wondering if this indeed is the beginning of the end of ‘Kali yug’ that the Hindu sages predicted many millennia back! Or for that matter, the 2012 ‘end of the world’ that the Mayans predicted around the same time? Can we really dismiss the two geographically so very distant people foreseeing the same future as ‘mere’ coincidence?” This bringing together of Hindu and Mayan prophesies I had found intriguing and had also recalled Nostradamus’ prediction about the end of the world.

The thought came back the other day as I sat reading about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), that 27 Km long particle accelerator clicking away deep below the Franco Swiss border. And the underlying concerns that “earth would be destroyed and the galaxy gobbled up by an ever increasing black hole” as the LHC ramps up its operations and reaches its maximum power levels. Yet one more doomsday prediction.

What is it that has tempted Mankind through the ages to speculate on this end of the world theme? Has it been Man’s imagination going ballistic based on various apocalyptic events the world has faced? Or is it some other flaw in mental makeup?

Which brings me to that age-old tug of war within ourselves. We seek knowledge and at the same time avoid it. Our primal instincts conditioned us to make sense of the world around us as else there was always that fear of “what we do not know”. So we fit all we know into that “comfort space” which we have created and close our minds to uncomfortable facts that do not fit.

The doomsayers’ inherent belief is that in case everything does not fit into their prescribed paradigm, the world becomes unfixable and therefore doomed.  Theirs is a mindset of seeing all things in black and white. A perspective that stems from the same closing of minds to facts that do not fit, an underlying belief that what we know is really all that is there to know.

The doomsayers refuse to “see” the positivity, hope and initiative that abound all around us. They ignore any mid path there might be that the world can indeed be “saved” from the holocaust which they has consigned it to in their minds.

We may ridicule the above mindset but do we realise that we carry a bit of the doomsayers belief in each one us? A belief that surfaces when we try and stick to our old ways and resist change. When we wallow in a sea of negativity as we move with the crowd. When we block ourselves from empowerment and positive intentions. When we decide to wear someone else’s coloured glasses rather than be guided by our own core values. When we decide to live by others’ dreams and aspirations, not our own.

So, can we regain the conviction of our own selves to seek positivity and embrace change to inherit the Earth as Kipling’s Man? Or do we want to regress back to when the doomsayers believed the Earth was flat , and we could fall over the edge if we set forth to seek the unknown?

In Learning……………………………………..                                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

Democracy: The way ahead


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali, 1912

 

I sit comfortably ensconced, watching disparate events in News Top 20.

From Arab spring incidents to the Euro zone crisis. From dissent against health care reforms in the USto sit-in dharnas against nuclear power plants inIndia. From strident social activism against corruption by Anna Hazare and his citizen group to Wall Street protests.

The kaleidoscope and colour of humanity, its endeavours and its challenges are so very dynamic, it never ceases to fascinate. But could there be a common thread through all this? Are these seemingly unconnected events but symptoms of some deeper unified malaise?

As I set about making sense of it all, I am confronted with myriad aspects. Those that range from democratic yearnings of the disenfranchised. To anger against increasing disparity.  To democracy itself struggling to sustain itself in the face of a fast changing twenty first century world.

But is Democracy the ultimate panacea to deliver quickly on all things desired for the new aspirants in the Arab world? And as the  fiscal deficits start biting, would the much vaunted democratic freedom of the  developed world  in fact allow it to climb down to the economic and social levels of the developing world? Or would democracy be hijacked by activist groups to further fuel unrests and force Governments to hold onto status quo which they can ill afford? Are we not seeing this happening in the recent political developments inGreece,Italyand elsewhere? I reflect on all such and other questions.

Thoughts flit through my mind. Could our challenges be stemming from a democratic deficit? The issues are many. First and foremost, is Democracy in a position to cope with technology empowered individualism of this century? How do we sustain democracy when people lose contact with their elected representatives? What can make-up for Governments’ loss of control and decision making in the face of Globalisation? And how can Governments come to terms with the increasingly powerful role that media can play?

I am no political pundit but nonetheless would risk offering the following “helicopter view” recipe.

  • Get back to the roots of Governance and face to face      interactions with people. Be it through panchayat empowerment, community      hall meetings or tribal jirgas.      We need to recognize one size or shape does not fit all.

 

  • Foster values to re-connect people to Democracy and      the political process. And how does one do that? By giving equal standing      to Citizen groups for proposing policy options and shaping dialogue. We      need to create those spaces which would allow people to get fearlessly involved      and know that their thoughts are respected.

 

  • Shift our perspective of Media from its perceived      “Government challenge” role to that of a democracy enabler facilitating      information availability and public involvement in policy making.

 

  • Inculcate attitude in the Government to actively      listen to and acknowledge the individual. The challenge is huge but encouraging      online communities may be a way forward.

 

At this point in History, a millennium beyond the Magna Carta, can we provide the next scallop by accepting the paradigm that Democracy continues to be a work in process?  Until we are able to awaken ourselves in Tagore’s “heaven of freedom… where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”?

 

 

 

 

 

A World of Tweeple


Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

 

                                                                                                                                          John Lennon, 1971

 

 

The other day I watched Barkha Dutt’s,“We the Tweeple” on NDTV. While the debate centered on the significant spread of positivity and assertiveness that twitter in particular and social media in general have created amongst common folk, one could still sense disquiet amongst a section of the participants. I was left wondering whether there remained concerns unsaid and unanswered.

It is often remarked that the anarchism the internet and its various appendages have come to signify, holds out the promise of societal empowerment for the first time in the history of mankind. The eighteenth century English philosopher William Godwin believed that the ‘Euthanasia of authority” would need to be achieved through individual reformation. As the tweeple inheriting today’s world, have we taken the onus of reforming ourselves and creating an existence on our own terms, bereft of any Governmental and organisational controls?

So can the social media revolution be viewed as a way forward? A concern that is often voiced is that it is fragmenting society and breaking down societal bonds. But as I ponder, I realise that such shifts in society and its perspectives have occurred many times in the past. Be it the massive changes in the socio-economic structure, culture and customs wrought when we moved from a predominantly agrarian to an industrialised society. Or the relatively lesser breakdown of our sense of neighbourhood and community which the Television brought about. So why this rising shrillness and uncertainty about the negative impact of Twitter, Facebook, SMSs etc?

As I ponder some more, I become aware of a more fundamental shift. A shift that is taking human society away from ethnic, religious and community groupings to connectivities at the individual level. We, the technologically empowered tweeple, are no longer willing to accept family and community pressures to “belong” to specified groups. We would rather prefer to tap into diverse networks that meet our emotional or social needs.

Which brings us to the disturbing aspect of this electronic invasion of social media into our lives viz. the blurring between our inner private space and our outside social footprint. This has major implications on our “thinking out of the box” creativity, our behaviour and even our inner values. As we continue to lose more and more of our inner selves, would we not be losing out on our individualism, our inner peace- which is the reason why we were attracted to be a tweeple and its empowerment in the first place? Therein lies the dilemma and its irony.

So what happens as we move forward a few decades or centuries down the curve?

Would we become a wired node to an omniscient society with the capacity to access information at will, anywhere, any time? In return our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for all to see and examine? Would those frightening visions of The Matrix, of Morpheus welcoming Neo “to the real world” where all people are wired to a central intelligence, come true in this fashion?

Or would social media become the enabler for our heightened individualism as we use its networked capability to achieve John Lennon’s utopia of “joining in and making the world as one?

In Learning……………………..

Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:

  • Living Networked in a Wired World- by Barry Wellman & Keith Hampton.