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

Wall Street protests and beyond: winter of our discontent?


 

 

Now is the winter of our  discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York;

                                                                                                                                         Richard the Third, Act 1, Scene 1


 

The Wall Street protests have now  gone viral to more than eighty locations globally. Different places, contrasting  paradigms but same underlying issues. The protests are focused on corporate greed, on rocketing wealth and income inequality, against booming bank profits  post Government bailouts, about average folks struggling to keep their heads  above water in a tanking economy. Banners read: “We are not merchandise in  bankers’ hands!” in Lisbon, “Why am I not  economically represented?” in Dublin. A mix of anger, frustration and disconnect are palpably on display.

As I watch the flickering images  on the news screen, my mind’s eye goes back to John Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent”. It tells the story  of Ethan Allen, a former aristocrat, now fallen on hard times. As he struggles  to make two ends meet, he maintains high integrity and honesty. But family and  peer pressure makes him resent his lowly position, forces him to give up his  long cherished values and embark on a dangerous and corrupt path……

I ponder. Is the society at large similarly headed? Is this the twenty first century denouement of Capitalism? Or a clarion call for a deeper change inside each one of us?

To the detractors, Capitalism is a fundamentally flawed model with the sole focus on profiteering. Numbers take over from morality; we get obsessed with what is monetarily productive but socially destructive.

As Aristotle had said, “Man by nature is a social animal…………… and anyone who does not need to partake of society is either a beast or a God.” We have been genetically wired to share, care and give away but this runs counter to the capitalist theory of economic progress. We are thus getting re-wired to reward selfishness but punish altruism. So what are we morphing into- Aristotle’s Beast or his God?

Our sense of purpose and values get subsumed and even contradicted by those of our organisation. We get hijacked into believing that our life’s purpose is to be successful within the corporate world, achieve that beautiful house on the lakeside or aggrandize a stable of top end cars. Such externally imposed beliefs take centre stage and drown out our true values. Our thoughts and behaviour become hostage to these underlying beliefs and as we wallow in our self created materialistic cocoon, we can no longer “hear” our true inner self. We may have once held dear the value of “environmental sustainability” but may now have become reconciled with our organisation’s growth plans of iron ore mining requiring degradation of a virgin environment. In our youth, we may have believed in “equitability of society” but as CEOs, may be perfectly willing to maximize stakeholder returns by retrenching employees through automation and out-sourcing.

While a knee jerk reaction may suggest increasing taxes on Corporates and individuals, excessive taxation endangers initiatives and aspirations, the fountainheads of progress. Clearly a shift in our perspective is needed. Could we reward and support a culture of direct benefit flows to the immediate society and the environment? Can we create a great corporate culture with Purpose over Profit? Can we re-align corporate values more with our own individual ones? Can we light up the corporate sector with glorious values as under?

  • Express love and care
  • Service to others
  • Pursuit of truth
  • Quest for excellence and perfection
  • Improve the World

In the October 2011 McKinsey Quarterly report on “The second economy”, author W. Brian Arthur speaks of how the emerging digital economy is causing large sections of human jobs to disappear, never to reappear. How the future economic challenge would be to shift from producing prosperity to distributing prosperity, how it would become increasingly difficult to apportion future wealth through jobs.

As stakeholders, could we shift our perspective to accept corporate valuation based on non-profit values as above apart from profits? Do we have the conviction to change winter of our discontent to the glorious summer, upholding our core values of universal inclusiveness and fairness? Or would we choose to go along the path taken by John Steinbeck’s Ethan Allen?

“There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but most men and most women never discover it……………. 

And this morning, I think of the fact that our world is in transition now. Our whole world is facing a revolution.”

Martin Luther King, Jr
.

 In learning…………                    Shakti Ghosal