Swacch Bharat Campaign

Gandhi ji Gandhi ji said cleanliness is next to godliness. He inspired his followers by picking up the broom and leading the cleanliness effort. Prime Minister Modi is taking the same course of action. In this day and age where Indians have started thinking getting their hands dirty to do basic cleanliness chores  is beneath their dignity, here is a Prime Minister who is not hesitating to do it himself.

It is a shame that a country that is aiming to become a global power, the citizens are not willing to do their bit for keeping the country clean. When each citizen in the country is messing it up, then it becomes each citizen’s duty to maintain civic sense and keep the country clean.

Government schemes itself are insufficient and government can only do so much. For all the funding provided for various social welfare schemes, 50% of it did not reach the entitled beneficiaries. In respect to sanitation, the schemes effectiveness was just 36%. Hence, the public has to ensure that funds are not wasted, and are utilized effectively. They have to take ownership of the areas in their neighbourhood to ensure cleanliness.

Clean public areas reduce environmental and health risks. With cleaner environments, the likelihood of various viruses and diseases transmitting through air and water reduce. Hence, everyone gains by ensuring cleanliness.

Here are a few suggestions on organizing cleanliness drives in public areas:

  • Choose a road, park, or field that requires cleaning and is a complete eyesore.
  • Form a group on the social networks for your neighbourhood and societies.
  • Contact your local government municipal authorities to find out about their plans and efforts, and seek their cooperation.
  • Select a weekend morning; organize brooms, garbage bags, and cleaning gloves for everyone.
  • Intimate everyone, reach the allotted location, and collect all the garbage.
  • Get the local municipality garbage truck to pick up the garbage bags.

You can also talk to your organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility team  to start these efforts near the office areas, markets and customers. You can take sponsorship from organizations to lead the effort. If you are a young employee, this is a good way to learn project management and leadership skills.

Now cleaning up a locality might not sound the best way to spend a Sunday morning. But trust me, I have done it and it is a great way to meet new people. When one meets new people in conferences and restaurants, one is always putting up an appearance. However, when one is picking up garbage, one can actually understand the person fast because the conversations are real and down to earth. It is a good way to make some real friends.

Another plus is that after a couple of hours of hard work, one has burnt a few calories without going to the gym and can have a good breakfast without the guilt. If you start early, you will also see the sunrise.

Above all, you have done a great service to the nation and contributed your bit to keep India clean.  From all angles, it has a whole lot of positives.

Indians, make India the cleanest country in the world. As Prime Minister Modi said, if we contribute a couple of hours each week, we can do it. Make India Proud.

Wishing all my readers a very happy

Gandhi Jayanti. Let us support our

Prime Minister to make Swacch

Bharat Campaign successful

 

The LGBT Sandwich

Lettuce, grated cheese, bread, and turkey make a delicious sandwich. Unfortunately, Supreme Court of India has ordered LGBTs to cold turkey their sexual activities; else, they will face criminal prosecution. The poor souls are sandwiched between the Delhi High Court order that liberated them four years back and the Supreme Court latest order banishing them into dark ages. Maybe banning judges from issuing judgments on the last day of service that impact nearly 10% of the nation’s population would benefit. Can India in this day and age declare 12 million Indians as potential criminals because of sexual preferences?

1.  Is it a Sin?

If God created humans, then why did he create LGBTs if they are supposedly immoral? Do we say a person is evil because he has one blue eye and one black eye? Are differently abled people born criminals? In the worst-case scenario, one can say LGBTs are sexually differently abled. No, I am not propagating this viewpoint. There is nothing wrong with LGBTs physically, morally or intellectually. They are as normal as heterosexuals are. Heterosexuals’ intolerant attitude towards homosexuals is wrong.

Heterosexuals must stop blaming the victim under the guise of religion. In ancient India LGBTs were part of the mainstream population and respected. For instance, in Mahabharata, Arjun dresses up as a woman for one year to disguise himself. Amba, whom Bhishma refused to marry, is reborn as Shikhandini. She exchanged her sex with a Yaksha who wanted to be a female, to punish Bhishma for rejecting her in the previous birth. Lord Shiva’s one form is of Ardhanarishvara – meaning the lord who is half woman. In one story, Lord Vishnu becomes Mohini, has sexual relationship with Lord Shiva and has children from him.

The Ottoman Empire funded Islam propagation in Middle East from the 13th century. It decriminalized homosexuality during Tanzimat period (1839-76). In Persia, homosexuality and homoerotic expressions were accepted in public places. Male houses of prostitution were legally recognized and paid taxes. (1501-1723)

Hence, how can it be possible when the same religions are being followed from middle ages, previously homosexuality was an acceptable act, and now in 21st century it becomes a criminal act?

Section 377 was imposed by the British Raj in India in 1857 to stop the British homosexuals fleeing to India. Now the western world has accepted homosexuality and Indian politicians are propagating repressive policy to meet their political ambitions. As usual, they have got it backwards.

2.  It is torture?

In my teens, I turned rather precocious. When my father and I went out, I checked out guys on the road.

When dad noticed my behaviour, he was horrified. Here is the conversation that followed:

Dad: What are you doing Sonia?

Irrepressible me: My eyes turn sore from studying, I am checking out eye candies to relax them.

Aghast dad: Your sister would never do such a thing.

Brazen me: Yeah, isn’t she a duh. What a waste of good looks!

Horrified dad: Your mom….

Unfazed me: If I had mom’s looks, I could get into so much trouble.

After a few weeks, dad found a practical solution to my problem. Whenever we went out, I was driving and he sat in the front seat, looking around. When I asked him why, he responded – “Health issues, heart problem, doctors told me to reduce stress.” Meow!

Every heterosexual child has a similar story to tell. As the child becomes an adolescent, parents try to gear their emotions, desires, and social behaviour according to the cultural norms of the society. The heterosexual adolescent runs to his/her parents for solace when facing the first heartbreak and rejection.

In contrast, see the nightmare an adolescent faces when s/he realizes that they are attracted to the same sex and not the customary opposite sex. Erik Erikson, the world-renowned psychologist developed the eight stages of psychological identity development model. According to him, between the age of 13-19 years, adolescents address the questions – “Who am I? What can I be?” through social relationships. This is the stage of developing one’s own identity and if a person is unable to do so, they live with role confusion during adult age. Between 20-39 years, an adult addresses the question – “Can I love?” through romantic relationships. During this stage, a person forms intimate relationships or if s/he is unable to answer the question, lives an isolated life.

An LGBT teenager learns to attach shame and guilt for their sexual desires. The teenagers realize that if they confide in their parents, they might reject them. Their friends will socially isolate and ridicule them, their teachers will rusticate them from school, and outsiders will exploit them. The intolerant society gives them a gag order for life. The children have no adult or peer to talk to and have to live through this nightmare all alone.

As an adult, LGBTs realize that they are capable of becoming celebrated artists, musicians, philosophers, scientists, corporate leaders and sports person as long as they are willing to live a lie. With their capabilities and talent, they can earn power, fame, and money. However, they don’t have the right to hold hands of a person they love. The heterosexuals have taken their right to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Heterosexuals don’t need to put homosexuals behind bars as criminals. They have already chained them for life and prescribed them extreme psychological torture. In desperation, they join social groups, religious orders and change countries to get social acceptance and a well-defined identity. Some fervently pray to God for mercy, some turn atheists. Others in anger wish to punish heterosexuals in the same way. They want to hurt the opposite gender for making them feel inadequate. The ultimate revengeful desire would be to make heterosexuals face social rejection and isolation, to show them the torturous lives homosexuals have to live.

Unfortunately, humans are geared towards blaming the victim. In rape cases, the woman is blamed – why did she go out, why was she walking alone of the road, why was she wearing a revealing dress? Humans tend to blame others for their misfortunes, because they wish to live in a predictable world and protect themselves from feeling personally threatened. The idea behind is to tell ourselves that if we take care of ourselves, things will work out reasonably well and our world will be safe. Another woman can’t accept the fact that she escaped being a rape victim by sheer luck and she has no control on the external threat. Similarly, heterosexuals can’t accept that they are so because of sheer luck, and they could easily be homosexuals. There is still no concrete evidence that nature or nurture turns a person into a homosexual.

As we say in case of women equality, that we need men to come forward and change the thinking of other men, women alone can’t fight for equality. We need to take a similar stance for LGBTs. Heterosexuals need to come forward and embrace the cause of LGBTs equality. All that LGBTs are looking for is social acceptance. Why not give it to them?

3.   Organizations role

A decade back, I was working in Intel. One day my boss asked me to check LGBT policies as she needed to find a solution to a small issue. Stunned, I asked – “Which policies?” I had never read an organization’s LGBT policies in my career. Amused at my cluelessness, she gave me the intranet site name.

I was impressed with the site. Intel as usual had dealt with a difficult topic humanely, sensitively, openly and constructively. The introduction of the site was written by one of the heads of chip design division, a lesbian lady. She narrated her story of coming out, the stigma and social rejection she faced in her life, and what heterosexuals need to do the make LGBTs feel part of the organization. There were other similar mind-blowing stories. Additionally, a lot of reading material, policies, and guidance notes were available on the site to educate the employees.

Think would a customer refuse to purchase an Intel laptop because a division headed by a lesbian developed the processing speed. Our response would be – “Who cares, we want fast machines”. Exactly, we shouldn’t be concerned!

Closing thoughts

Indian Government and politicians need to move out of the bedroom of consenting adults. The Indian police are unable to manage and solve rape cases, and now it wishes to deal with the whole LGBT population as criminals. Hitler and Stalin ordered the death of millions to cleanse the population. Is the stance of government to treat LGBTs as criminals any better? Intolerance and disrespect are the main reasons for anger, hatred, and violence in the world. Heterosexuals show intolerance and disrespect every day to LGBTs. Let us collectively weave them in the social fabric of our lives and culture.

News Broadcasters Contribution to National Intelligence

Six unknown people are shrieking while discussing the latest news in your living room. To make matters worse, they are cutting others mid-sentence, and rebuking and rebuffing each other with absolute disregard for conversation proprietaries. The other invitees are unfazed with the shrill level and plunge straight into the debate. After a tough day in office, you have had enough. You finally pick up the remote and flick to an international news channel where there is a more civilized discussion going on.

Watch this sample of Indian Hindi  news channels discussion. The 1000 tonnes of gold dream of a sadhu was supposed to reduce the national deficit and change the destiny of India. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an English news channel video on this topic.

The news broadcasters sensationalize the most trivial news by making it debate issue. The motley crowd gathers for their 15-minute fame. That they are being screamed at and insulted on a national broadcast does not deter them. Research shows that monkeys never call simultaneously. Each waits at least for five seconds after the caller has finished before responding. News broadcasters by no leap of imagination can be called polite conversationalist. They turn each intellectual discourse into an arena for combat. The discerning audience switches channels. Hence, I felt the need to discuss a few points.

Can public sue news broadcasters for wasting time? For instance, the swami’s dream of 1000 tonnes gold story circulated for two weeks. It died a tragic death when archaeologists reported that after digging they found a little bit of iron and broken glass bangles. Was anyone expecting anything else? Now let us assume ten Indian news channels gave one-hour airtime to this story. Approximately, ten million viewers followed the update. Hence, ten million productive hours were wasted. It approximately comes to 3470 person-years of labor squandered. Imagine the national financial loss resulting due to nonsensical stories.

Can public be inoculated from imbibing stupidity? Words seduce and rape, inspire and degrade, unite and alienate; hence, their power is infinite. The ambiance of news broadcast grates on the nerves. The invited experts are clueless on the impression of their words on their audience. The most loud-mouthed and aggressive person’s ill-informed diatribe is heard.

Media’s role is to shape public opinion by educating and enlightening audiences. They can develop an exquisite and warm relationship with them. Media easily transcends racial, cultural, and geographical boundaries and has a central role in building the knowledge level of the country. With the present level of news broadcast, government should develop a measurement scale to determine the decrease in level of intelligence and knowledge of audiences by watching the news channels.

Can news channels dedicate a few hours to positive stories? The news channels extol the gory, grotesque, and inane to get TRP ratings. The nasty stories permeate audience thinking and they turn apathetic towards distress and pain of others. The problems appear all pervasive where a single individual’s effort will not make a difference.

Shouldn’t news channels deliver enchanting, inspiring, and empowering stories for two hours every day? Tell stories about courage, compassion, altruism, brilliance, and determination. Stories encapsulating the essence of humanity.

Closing Thoughts

It is not what you know; it is how you think that makes a difference in the world. As Gandhi ji said – “Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.” News channels influence our thinking. They form the values of the nation. The irrelevant and frivolous news affects the destiny of the nation. Hence, audiences need to hold media moguls accountable to broadcast a higher standard of news. Shouldn’t this come under corproate social responsibility of media houses?

Blood on Our Hands

A man smashed a crowbar on a woman’s head. Her skull split and she died on the spot. Who was the violent predator? Her husband, the man who had vowed to love, cherish and honor her. What did she do wrong? She insisted on doing Masters in Technology while the husband was just a Bachelor in Electronics. The man, a lecturer in college, purportedly respects education.

Violence is the biggest risk in the world. Death and destruction destroys the life not only of the individual but the whole family. Mahatma Gandhi said “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will make the whole world blind and toothless.” However, non-violence is freaking difficult path to follow when others are hurting and harming us. So leaders proclaim, non-violence is outdated, it isn’t a solution for every problem, some situations require violent action. Violent behavior just sounds an easier option, till our life is scorched by it.

1.   Disrespect – The Source of Violence

Source of all violence is disrespect for the other. Treating a person as inferior, a slave or an object, are all ways to dehumanize a person. Disrespect arises from discrimination. To give a person an unfair treatment based on their age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, culture, or color results in disrespecting the person. Disrespect gets reflected in unconscious biases, verbal communication, social inclusion in groups, active harm, and physical violence.

The life of the victim becomes like a man walking barefoot in a desert – the sand burns the soles of his feet, the hot wind drains his life’s vital fluids, blood drops flow from his eyes. With no way to quench his thirst or get respite in shade, anger erupts like a volcano. To find balm for his hurts and destruction of his life, he dedicates his life to revenge. Now the vicious cycle of violence can’t be broken.

2.    Our Leaders Perpetuate Violence

Unfortunately, our leaders have taught us violence. During the world wars, the four prominent leaders – Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, all had blood on their hands. Hitler killed Jews, Stalin directed murder of over two million people, and the other two allies ordered atomic bombing in Japan. In contrast, Gandhi, well versed in western culture and politics, pursued non-violence to gain independence. Having the courage to fight for rights under the circumstances, and believing in the goodness of humanity, was an incredible feat. A lessor man would have keeled.

Remarkably, despite knowing the horrors of war, human race hasn’t learnt much. In the last decade itself, United States, the super power has sanctioned over 30 military operations in other countries. In 2000, as per the World Health Organization over 1.6 million people died violently. Now the numbers must have increased. This is the world man has created. Since most leaders are male, this warring and violent nature can be attributed to masculine gender. Funnily, they are proud of it.

3.   Humans Learn Violent Behaviour

A child sees violence at home when parents or siblings fight, or when the parents physically harm the child to punish and teach lessons. Besides physical violence, the verbal heated disputes create disharmony in the little soul. Then, the school bullies are like birds sitting on a high wire, looking for a passer-by to poop on. By the time a child reaches the age of 15 years, he has seen 15000 murders on television. Is it surprising then, that kids are carrying weapons to school and shooting their classmates.

When adults indulge in violence, they have various excuses, blame games and explanations. Justifications are sought based on cultural habits, status in society or philosopher’s views. For example, Ayan Rand’s ideas allegedly support egotism, selfishness and self-centeredness. People use it as an excuse for harming others. In her book – Fountainhead, Howard Roark, the hero propagating the thought of living life on one’s own terms and working for the passion of creating something new and original, does not harm anyone, conduct any crime, or do unethical activity. He is the only one whose actions are clean and above board. Philosophers do not prescribe crime or give permission to conduct crime. Readers interpret different meanings depending on what suits their thought process and purpose in life.

4.   Choose Non-violence in Life

Humans can respond to negativity in their life in four ways. If water is the environment, then a person can behave like salt, sponge, iron, or sugar. That is, person’s personality can dissolve, absorb, toughen up with negativity, or spread positivity. When fighting a monster, a person has the choice of becoming a dragon of destruction or an angel of mercy. The strength of a person’s moral character determines the reaction to negativity.

Reasoning that one has not harmed another physically is not enough. Words sometimes cut sharper than a sword. Continuous verbal abuse can break a person, depress them, and make them suicidal. Five minutes of compassion and empathy bring more happiness than earning a thousand bucks. Hence, focusing on learning non-violent communication is the key to a better world. It will stop a verbal dispute escalating into a conflict and then war.

Marshall Rosenberg generously shared his three-hour training session on non-violent communication. Check it out, it is practical with a lot of sound advice and will make you laugh at human follies.

References

BE Lecturer kills wife for studying M.Tech

God, Sex and Money

Swami Shobhan Sarkar dreamt of a 1000 tonnes of gold lying beneath King Rao Ram Bux Singh’s ancient palace. Now, in the latest dream the quantity was revised to 2500 tonnes of gold. Indian archaeology department is conducting a survey, and the story is getting rampant coverage from the media. Seriously, why doesn’t someone dream of 2500 tonnes of tetra paks and plastic bottles lying underneath a field? Recycling it would make quite a bit of money and is an environment friendly option.

Then, luxury addicted Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg spent Euro 31 million (USD 41 million) on refurbishing his house. Praying to God, following vows of celibacy and simplicity, requires that kind of expenditure! Does anyone know how much George Clooney, the most desirable bachelor in the world, the ultimate sex symbol, spends on redecorating his house? If one spends this kind of money in an Indian slum, all the slum dwellers will pray 12 hours a day without complaining.

Then, a teenaged girl has charged an Indian Godman for rape. After the disclosure, quite a few women have lodged similar complaints. The tragedy is that these dubious personalities attract many followers. These followers have to deal with moral injury. Jonathan Shay, the originator of the concept of moral injury defined it as –

Moral injury is present when (1) there has been a betrayal of what’s right (2) by someone who holds legitimate authority (3) in a high-stakes situation. Factor (2) is an instance of Shay’s concept of Leadership Malpractice.”

The religious leaders have moral authority over us. Betrayal of  trust results in cynicism and with it, faith in God, right versus wrong path, disappears. Lowering personal ethics and morals, effects business ethics. It is unrealistic to partition a person’s ethical behavior into a C drive and D drive like a computer. Hence, corruption and illegal activities flourish.

Let us look from another lens. If a child puts his textbooks on a table, draws a rangoli across, decorates it with flowers, and bows his head for five hours daily, will he gather the knowledge in the books. What a foolish thought! However, worshiping God involves the same practice. From childhood, we worship and show our commitment to God by giving money and gifts. If God gets happy with the money donated at various places of worship, then professionally, he has to be a chartered accountant or a banker.

Then, why is the public so gullible and falls for such tricks? Is it because, it is a shorter route, it makes a person feel good without much effort. Alternatively, a person doesn’t need to dwell on shortcomings and wrongdoings. Not really. Religion gives people a sense of belonging. According to psychology studies, a sense of belonging gives humans meaning in life. A person’s physical and psychological health improves when they believe life is meaningful. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people exploit the need of social belonging of human beings.

Hence, distinguish the fake from the real. A rose blooms on a thorny stem, but not every thorny stem has a rose. The sun and moon don’t publicize their worthiness; air and water don’t need to broadcast their usefulness. Choose your moral leaders wisely. Read and reflect on the scriptures to understand the deep philosophy behind it. The right learning can be achieved only through practice, be it behavior or subject matter expertise.

Closing Thoughts  

Following a culture is must for happiness, respecting other’s culture is a must for humanity, but sometimes questioning a culture becomes a necessity. Lord Buddha said – question everything. Explore an idea, experiment with it and then adopt it in daily life. Don’t let other people’s immoral behavior stop you from pursuing a moral and ethical life. A cynic is an idealist with a broken heart. Mend your broken heart, and remain an idealist.

References:

  1. Indian government digging for gold after swami dreams of buried treasure
  2. (Reuters) – A German bishop under pressure to resign for spending around 31 million euros ($42 million) on a luxurious residence said he had been heartened by a private audience with Pope Francis in Rome on Monday.
  3. Asaram Bapu: The fall of a godman
  4. Johnathan Shay
  5. Sense of Belonging Increases Meaningfulness of Life

 

Role of Cheering Crowd in Unethical Activities

crowd

A circus joker does crazy acts with the crowd laughing and cheering him on. When a person breaks the social norms on the streets, the public considers him crazy. If he is sane and rational he will get back to normal socially acceptable behavior in no time. The response of the crowd gives feedback on the appropriateness of the act.

Similarly, when a person behaves unethically or inappropriately, the encouragement and support he receives from the crowd determines how far he will go. The crowd’s reaction decides the extent of the crime, however, the crowd is never held responsible, and the individual is.

Notice the current trend. Pop divas dance nude in videos. It is naked dance of vulgarity and obscenity, passed off as art. Obviously, singers don’t sound melodious with their clothes on! Audiences react in three ways. Some relish it and indulge their baser instincts. Most have become desensitized to it and stopped questioning it. Lastly, a few consider it vulgar and avoid it. If the last category diminishes, soon only the so-called unsophisticated will sing and dance clothed. So how does one affix responsibility of the crowd?

Let us consider another example. A man is standing on the top of a cliff, planning to jump into a river flowing 100 feet below. There is a group spurring him on, saying – “Bravo man, do it.” Two of his friends hold on two his sleeve and say – “Man, don’t do it, not worth the risk.” The man thinks his two friends were spoil sports, while others were actually his friends. He never thought that there might be people in the supporting group, wishing him dead or laughing at him. The man in the heightened state of excitement, with adrenaline flowing high leaps into the river and dies. Now will the legal system define this as murder?

It applies in the business scenario too. CEOs get top billings for churning out high growth numbers. The media praises them sky-high without delving deeply into the methods used to achieve the numbers. The employees, investors and public drive the CEOs to take bigger and bigger risks, bend more rules, be more inhuman. The CEOs see the crowds rooting for another and want the same accolade. Cheating, breaking the law, doing unethical activities seem a small price to pay to get public honour and acknowledgement. . No one stops him, tells him that he is doing something wrong; he only sees ardent admiration. Then the bubble bursts, the CEO is caught and the public vanishes overnight. The employees, media, public, and investors escape with no responsibility for motivating a person to behave unethically. The CEO spends time in prison. Should the legal system prosecute the crowd?

The power of the crowd is incredible. The support of the crowd decides the course of history, good and bad, be it Indian independence struggle or the holocaust.  The decision of the crowd is based on culture and values of the society or organization. The crowd without good cultural and ethical values will probably support wrong things. As Confucius says: –

“Guide them with policies and align them with punishments and the people will evade them and have no shame. Guide them with virtue (de) and align them with culture and the people will have a sense of shame and fulfill their roles.”

From industrial age, organizations focus on the western concept of putting processes and procedures in place. The mechanism for compliance is reward and punishment systems. Just a few organizations have invested in building a good organization culture on ethical values. It holds true for families. Parents manipulate a child’s behavior through reward and punishment, without teaching core values. Without the education to build the moral compass within the organization and in the society, people cannot be expected to support the right causes and actions. Hence, one can opine that the crowd is blameless because they know no better.

This argument can be further propagated by the current state of social values. Every person is striving to be recognized, by whatever means possible. Paris Hilton gets more coverage in media than all sages in India. The problem is that people cannot recognize true merit in others and are obsessed about others acknowledging their merit. It is a situation of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ in human thoughts. Hence, education becomes the key to change the voice of the crowd.

Closing Thoughts

Replace obedience as a virtue with critical thinking in raising children, establishing cultural values in society and organizations. Obedience hampers the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. It develops traits to go along with the crowd rather than stand apart and hold ground. Critical thinking must become a mandatory course in schools, colleges, and organizations. Focus on it, and the crowd will start making better decisions in all aspects of life.

Humility – The Gandhian Way

gandhi king

Gone are the days of Gandhian simplicity and unpretentiousness. The rush for materialism and economic progress has robbed Indians of their humility. Arrogance and egoism has taken centre stage.

Now, household help count is a status symbol while Gandhi preached self-service. He weaved the clothes he wore, and currently wearing high-end fashion brands is a social necessity. Whether in personal life, interviews, or jobs, we present a flawless image as drilled by the personal branding consultants. Admitting to weaknesses is a no-no. Our leaders are picture perfect till their names become media headlines for some scandal. Where are we heading with this behavior?

Mahatama Gandhi’s two autobiographies “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” and “Satyagraha in South Africa” reveal the humility of the great man.

1.  Humility in Personal Life

“The Story of My Experiments with Truth” sounds more of a confession of wrong doings and mistakes from childhood to adult life. Gandhi ji admitted to smoking cigarettes, eating meat, acting like a sex-starved teenager with his wife and visiting brothels a couple of times. He basically did what all youngsters do in the name of adventure, rebellion and growing up. However, very few leaders take the trouble of writing them down to share it with their followers,  to enable the followers to learn from the leaders mistakes.

Nowadays, doing so at the peak of the political career is considered suicidal. Our society needs a reality check. It needs to accept that failures are a part of life, no one is perfect, not even our greatest leader. Alas, others look akin to a clown, a circus joker, a pathetic beggar, a disreputable character, a corrupt greedy man, a ruthless psychopath, a loose woman, a calculating witch, but prey why do we miss seeing all these in self.

2.  Obsession With Titles

A title is the ultimate hallmark of supremacy, be it Lord, King, CEO, President. If you have an exalted designation on your visiting card, all character flaws, deficiencies and short comings are wiped clean. People must bow down in front of you and you get the right to treat them inhumanely with disrespect. Contrast this with Gandhi ji’s attitude towards the title of Mahatma bestowed on him. He mocked and ridiculed it. In the introduction of the book  “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” he wrote -

“My experiments in the political field are now known, not only in India, but to a certain extent to the ‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the title of Mahatma that they have won for me has, therefore, even less. Often the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me.”

About his second visit to Kashi Vishanath Temple he indulged in some good-natured self-depreciating humor –

“Since then I have twice been to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been after I had already been afflicted with the title of Mahatma, and experiences such as I have detailed above had become impossible. People eager to have my darshan would not permit me to have a darshan of the temple. The woes of Mahatmas are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise were the same as before.”

Ask the question “Who am I?” If the response is a designation or a degree, then there is confusion in identity.

3.  Grandiosity of Leaders

Everyone desires to be a leader as it makes them look grand in eyes of others. Aspiring leaders avoid contemplating whether they actually inspire their followers, work on improving the world and add value to the society. The aim is to get the perks and privileges of leaders without the responsibilities. Even the spiritual leaders, swamis and yogis, the embodiment of austerity and simple living, are sitting on golden thrones. During investigations or after death, shocked followers see the display of hoarded cash and jewellery.

The servant-leadership followed by Gandhi ji showed his true leadership mettle. In the book – Satyagraha in South Africa – he described himself as servant of the public. He wrote -

“A public meeting of the Indians was called in Durban. Some friends had warned me beforehand that I would be attacked at this meeting and that I should therefore not attend it at all or at least take steps for defending myself. But neither of the two courses was open to me. If a servant when called by his master fails to respond through fear, he forfeits his title to the name of servant. Nor does he deserve the name if he is afraid of the master’s punishment. Service of the public for service’s sake is like walking on the sword’s edge. If a servant is ready enough for praise he may not flee in the face of blame. I therefore presented myself at the meeting at the appointed time.”

Further on, he expounded servant leadership in the following words -

It has been my constant experience that much can be done if the servant actually serves and does not dictate to the people. If the servant puts in body-labour himself, others will follow in his wake. And such was my experience on the present occasion. My co-workers and I never hesitated to do sweeping, scavenging and similar work, with the result that others also took it up enthusiastically. In the absence of such sensible procedure it is no good issuing orders to others. All would assume leadership and dictate to others and there would be nothing done in the end. But where the leader himself becomes a servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership.”

These are fabulous examples of role,  accountability, and responsibility of leaders. Just a handful of leaders can be so humble and fill these shoes. Autobiographies of great leaders show that leadership is a long hazardous journey requiring great deal of personal sacrifice, hard work, and vision. It is incorrect to assume business titles automatically bestow leadership traits. Queen Marie Antoinette’s immature and inconsiderate statement – “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake” – didn’t get her dedicated followers, it is Napoleon who is respected for leadership qualities. . Earn the honor of being a leader. Ask yourself – Why should others follow you?

Closing thoughts

Wishing all my readers, a very Happy Gandhi Jayanti.  As it is a holiday in India, let me end this on a humorous note.

A donkey twisted his leg, so the owner put him in a red Ferrari to take him to the vet. On the way, the owner stopped at a car wash. The car cleaners said – “Wow, what a body, such a dazzling color.” The donkey joyously brayed. The cleaners remarked – “Sounds fabulous”. After returning to the  farm, while walking on the mud path, the donkey was extremely disappointed and thought – “Why is no one appreciating me, as the car cleaners did?”

Cultural Complexities and Conflicts

Two weeks back I had given my laptop for repair. The computer guy first said that he would repair it in a day for Rs 1500. Then he called up and said it will take two days. Then he called up and said it will take Rs 2500. I asked him to return the laptop without repairing and ended up paying Rs 350 as service charges as he had identified the problem. Last week I asked a person to recharge my TV subscription and I am still waiting for the same. Why am I ranting on the blog?

Reason is these things happen in India. Based on these experiences the foreigners visiting India formulate an opinion on India. Secondly, the foreigners either formulate opinions on Indians from media reports or base it on their experiences of Indians living abroad. Media thrives on negative information and hardly report on positive aspects. Indians living abroad are just a small slice of the country and they do not completely represent the culture at home.

Some westerners visit India to understand it better as it is a growing economic power. However, whenever I have read their views, I feel they have a superficial picture and do not really understand the cultural complexities of India. They attempt to dissect each part independently and try to fix the jigsaw puzzle. However, Indian culture is akin to a seven-layered cake. The multitudes of flavours need to be tasted as a whole.

In India, there is a saying. To understand the water flowing in Ganga check the origin from Gangotri. To understand the culture of the country and the behaviour of the people, one needs to see the history of at least 100 years. I know in this age we believe world is changing so fast that people change quickly. However, I was reading Gandhi ji’s autobiographies and was surprised that most of the causes of conflict and misunderstandings between western people and Indians remain the same. For example, I understand what is being said by a westerner but sometimes I don’t get the logic behind the behaviour. From an Indian context, it just doesn’t make sense.

1)     The Western Civilization

The difference lies in the approach to life. The western civilization conquered the world in past centuries with the primary motive of getting richer. Though they entered as traders in countries, they soon became rulers. Establishing supremacy by war, brute force, aggression and breaking the spirit of locals were considered good tactics. The morality of their decisions and the suffering caused to human race wasn’t an aspect that got importance. The enemy had to be destroyed by whatever means possible.

So even today, the western corporates mostly have an aggressive organization culture with profit motive. Money is still the primary driver for most activities. The star performers are aggressive men who achieve their positions by cutthroat completion in the dog eat dog world. Ethical competition was until the last few decades an alien concept. Deception, cunning, and breaking the rules are valued traits for winning the game. There are few women at the top, as feminine traits were never respected. They are considered too soft.

2)     The Indian Civilization

In contrast, the Indian civilization since ancient times valued simplicity and the focus was on progress of the soul. In young age, a person was required to set up family, have a career and earn sufficient amount to keep the family in comfort. In old age, an Indian gave up all attachments and desires to focus on purifying the soul. Hence, during their lifetime Indians were required to develop virtues of truthfulness, simplicity, humility, patience, perseverance, frugality, and  other worldliness.

Cunning, aggression and deception were looked down. As Gandhi said – “a thing secured by a particular weapon can be retained only by that weapon” hence enemies weren’t destroyed but converted to friends wherever possible. That is why Indians used non-violence in the struggle for independence. Even when wars were fought, rules were to be followed and the person breaking the rules was considered unprincipled and cowardly. Breaching trust was shameful, contrary to the western opinion where the person whose trust is broken is considered a fool for trusting.

In respect of leadership also, since centuries India has propagated servant leadership and not that of arrogance and supremacy.

3)     The Global Organization

With globalization, one can see these two divergent approaches to life in close quarters interacting daily. I have heard many of my western colleagues comment about a mild-mannered Indian – “X is not aggressive enough, will he get the job done?” Whereas the Indian colleagues say – “What is wrong with this person, why do we need to fight? We can cooperate and get the work done peacefully.”  Team workers are always more valued than star performers. Cooperation is encouraged than competitive behaviour.

Each group doesn’t get the motives and thought process behind the other group’s behaviour. Westerners can’t figure out how Indians succeed in business with all these traits and attributes. They predict failure, and see success in the long run. Quite a few Indians considered unemployable by western standards (unassertive, weak, too humble, or polite) have successful careers in India.

While both groups now attempt to understand the behaviour of other, it is quite impossible to change it in a short time. A person brings to an organization the culture s/he has been raised in. The personal values and attributes can’t disappear on joining and neither can they be left at home during office hours. Respecting the person’s culture and giving space is the best approach.

Closing thoughts

The oriental nations – India and China – are the biggest emerging markets. The western world can’t ignore it and neither can they change it. Hence, they have to understand it and learn to survive in the oriental culture. It is among the biggest opportunities today to bring peace and prosperity in the world. In my view, to reduce the cultural risks and related conflicts more Indians should educate the western population about their historical and social culture. This will give deeper understanding and remove prejudices. The 21st century is bringing change; it is up to us on how we manage it.

Satyagraha For Freedom From Corruption

Gandhi ji, in his book “History of Satyagraha in South Africa” narrates the coinage of the term Satyagraha and the journey of the movement. It is an amazing story of sacrifice, determination, and moral courage. Hence, I wondered whether we can use the concept to fight corruption in this century.

The irony is that Gandhi ji started the Satygraha movement in South Africa because Europeans passed unfavourable laws for Indians. They were scared of Indian traders and professionals taking a huge slice of the business, hence passed laws to restrict their liberty to live and trade freely. Greed was at the crux of it since there were plenty of natural resources in South Africa for Europeans, Blacks, and Indians. Now India is being destroyed by the greed of its leaders and public.

Gandhi ji’s story stands in stark contrast to the Anna Hazare led fight against corruption. Hazare’s was packaged as Gandhian inspired struggle but as results showed it was far from it. Hazare took the stance of my way and high way on the Lokpal Bill, whereas Gandhi ji believed in negotiation. Moreover, Hazare’s was a publicity driven exercise of a few fasts and he quickly distanced himself from it when he faced failure. Another aspect was that though thousands turned up in support at the initial stage, no one made use of that energy constructively and directed people to do something more than shout slogans on the streets. Hence, the euphoria disappeared after a short while, as the educated middle class needed an action plan to maintain their commitment.

It brings back to our understanding of Satyagraha. We generally confuse it with “passive resistance” and it was the same situation when Gandhi ji developed the concept a century back. Below are few points from the book:

1)      Satyagraha

Gandhi ji considered Satyagraha as a soul-force. The Satyagrahies never used physical force even when they had the capability for it. In Gandhi ji’s word – “Satyagraha is soul-force pure and simple, and whenever and to whatever extent there is room for the use of arms or physical force or brute force, there and to that extent is there so much less possibility for soul-force. These are purely antagonistic forces in my view, and I had full realization of this antagonism even at the time of the advent of Satyagraha

2)     Passive resistance

The term “passive resistance” originated in Europe as a weapon of the weak. It was generally used when other options of fighting were not available. It was a method used by people without voting rights, or lacking public support. The people were not averse to using arms for attaining their goals. But they did not go for it because they didn’t think they would succeed with it. Hence, passive resistance was more of a strategic manoeuvre than commitment to non-violence.

3)    Difference between the two

Gandhi ji described the fundamental difference in the concepts in the following paragraphs -

 “The power of suggestion is such that a man at last becomes what he believes himself to be. If we continue to believe ourselves and let others believe that we are weak and therefore offer passive resistance, our resistance will never make us strong, and at the earliest opportunity we will give up passive resistance as a weapon of the weak.

 On the other hand if we are satyagrahis and offer satyagraha believing ourselves to be strong, two clear consequences result from it. Fostering the idea of strength, we grow stronger and stronger every day. With the increase in our strength, our satyagraha too becomes more effective and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up.

 Again, there is no scope for love in passive resistance; on the other hand, not only has hatred no place in satyagraha, but it is a positive breach of its ruling principle. While in passive resistance there is a scope for the use of  arms when a suitable occasion arrives, in satyagraha physical force is forbidden even in the most favourable circumstances. Passive resistance is often looked upon as a preparation for the use of force while satyagraha can never be utilized as such. Passive resistance may be offered side by side with the use of arms. Satyagraha and brute force, being each a negation of the other, can never go together.

 Satyagraha may be offered to one’s nearest and dearest; passive resistance can never be offered to them unless of course they have ceased to be dear and become an object of hatred to us.

 In passive resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party and there is a simultaneous readiness to undergo any hardships entailed upon us by such activity; while in satyagraha there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.”

 4)    Freedom From Corruption

Considering the above definition of Satyagraha and the differences highlighted by Gandhi ji, I haven’t seen very many noteworthy cases of mass movement of Satyagraha. Hazare’s movement just entailed short-term sacrifice and not a long-term struggle. When the public disappeared so did he.

The Satyagrahies courted prison and lived a simple life to fight for their cause. Hence, the question is that do we lack commitment and determination for long-term struggle to root out wrong habits. Is it possible and realistic to expect people to make these sacrifices in the present age of instant gratification. Can we expect Indian public to take a vow not to take or give bribes and kickbacks? Will it be expecting too much from the citizens to sacrifice a few luxuries. Will the public stay committed to the cause or leave it when it gets bored, to participate in the next novel thing.

We need to seriously think of eradicating corruption on this Independence Day. India has come a long way in one century but the corruption is eroding its sheen and destroying the country from within. We must not forget the sacrifices a whole generation of Indians made to ensure that the next generations live with freedom. Let us pledge to keep our souls free of greed.

Wishing all Indians a Very Happy Independence Day.

References:

History of Satyagraha in South Africa by M.K. Gandhi 

Guiding Principles of Nelson Mandela

Wishing Mr. Mandela A Very Happy 95th Birthday.

nelson young Mr Mandela inspired South Africans to fight against apartheid and the world population to strive for equality. He led a life of meaning and broke all the chains that imprisoned him and his community. To free his people, he walked over landmines, made prison his political playground and sacrificed his personal life. In his own words –

It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free.”

His life message is clear –  Life is not about whether one lived on bed of roses. It is about how one plucked all the thorns that were hurting and cleared the road ahead for others.

There are very few leaders of his calibre in the world. His autobiography – Long Road to Freedom – draws the essence of the man and his guiding principles.

1)    Privileges by bloodline – I maintain that nurture, rather than nature, is the primary mould of personality

As a child Mr. Mandela was neither the most intelligent or talented in his school. He was average in studies, sports and arts. As a young man he initially didn’t understand the magnitude of racial discrimination and wished just to have a job to support his family. Though he belonged to an esteemed South African family, he realized that wasn’t sufficient. As he said –

“No one knew or even cared that I was a descendant of the illustrious Ngubengcuka. The boarding master received me without a blowing of trumpets and my fellow students did not bow and scrape before me. At Clarkebury, plenty of the boys had distinguished lineages, and I was no longer unique. This was an important lesson, for I suspect I was a bit stuck up in those days. I quickly realized that I had to make my way on the basis of my ability, not my heritage. Most of my classmates could outrun me on the playing field and outthink me in the classroom, and I had a good deal of catching up to do.”

His commitment to the political cause grew over time. He learnt the ropes from his mentors and colleagues. He became a great leader after many trial and errors, failed miserably repeatedly and continued on the journey. His choices made him a great leader. Leaders grow and mature. They are  not born.

2)     Leadership – A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind

Mr Mandela learnt that leader has to be like a shepherd when he attended his regent’s gatherings as a child. He realized that in the  tribal hearings, after explaining the nature of the meeting, the chief listened to everyone and didn’t utter a word.  Some speakers vocally disagreed with him and criticized him, but still their views were valued. Consensus approach was followed and the minority concerns weren’t overlooked in favour of the majority.

He said – “A minority was not to be crushed by majority.” He displayed these principles throughout his leadership. During the freedom struggle he formed alliances with the communists and Indians. On obtaining freedom, he assured the fights that he didn’t want them to take to the sea. They would retain their place and rights in South Africa. They had nothing to be scared of. South Africa was for all people who lived there -white and black.

3)     Dealing with the enemy – Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them.

Nelson Mandela maintained the dignity of his opponents even while they humiliated him at every turn. He learnt the lesson in childhood when he attempted to ride a donkey in front of his friends. The donkey threw him off, he became the butt of the jokes of his friends and lost face. When he regained his freedom after 27 years of captivity, he didn’t hate the white people, he hated the system which dehumanized people. His deep understanding of human nature is narrated below:

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me. It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

4)    Impact of inequality – It was not lack of ability that limited my people, but lack of opportunity.

Around the world, inequalities in income have resulted in the poor and underprivileged struggling for food, clothing, shelter and an education. The blacks were denied fundamental human rights that even took away the option to dream of a glorious life.  His poignant words describe the plight of the people:

“They will cough their lungs out deep in the bowels of the white man’s mines, destroying their health, never seeing the sun, so that the white man can live a life of unequaled prosperity. Among these young men are chiefs who will never rule because we have no power to govern ourselves; soldiers who will never fight for we have no weapons to fight with; scholars who will never teach because we have no place for them to study. The abilities, the intelligence, the promise of these young men will be squandered in their attempt to eke out a living doing the simplest, most mindless chores for the white man.”

Unfortunately, nearly 25% of the world population still is in dire straits because money measures the success of a man. A skyscraper built in a man’s name makes him feel on the top of the world when he just needs to lie on the grass at night and see the stars shining brightly in the sky.

5)      Moral Dilemmas — I thought what I was doing was morally right, I was still uncertain as to whether it was the correct.

A unique attribute of Mr. Mandela’s personality is that he often questioned himself whether he was taking the right decision. He saw both sides of the coin and realized that sometimes there were no easy answers.

One such instance was in his college life. He was on night watch to see that other students followed the rules. However, he saw another student who had similar responsibilities misusing his privileges. He then thought –  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who will guard the guardians themselves?). He wondered whether it was right to report the other students when the one in authority was misusing his?  In another situation he was putting his life on the line and he questioned himself –

“Was I sabotaging my academic career over an abstract moral principle that mattered very little? I found it difficult to swallow the idea that I would sacrifice what I regarded as my obligation to the students for my own selfish interests. I had taken a stand, and I did not want to appear to be a fraud in the eyes of my fellow students. At the same time, I did not want to throw away my career at Fort Hare.”

 6)     Love and family – I do not mean to suggest that the freedom struggle is of a higher moral order than taking care of one’s family. It is not; they are merely different.

Another aspect that he continually questioned was whether he was right in sacrificing his family obligations for the freedom of South African people.

“I wondered — not for the first time — whether one was ever justified in neglecting the welfare of one’s own family in order to fight for the welfare of others. Can there be anything more important than looking after one’s aging mother? Is politics merely a pretext for shirking one’s responsibilities, an excuse for not being able to provide in the way one wanted?”

 Mr. Mandela gave up the joy of living at his home with his wife and children. He never saw his children grow up. He became the father of the nation without being able to enjoy the simple pleasure of being a father to his children.

Closing Thoughts

nelson oldI think all of us wonder how a person can live 27 years in prison, face indignities and humiliations and come out of it with such a remarkable and generous spirit. So I am closing with his inspiring words:

“I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

References:

Long Road to Freedom – Autobiography of Nelson Mandela