Surrogacy – A Boon for Working Women?

A surrogate mother and delivery of a child costs approximately US$12,000 (Rs 720,000) in India. A mid-level female professional’s annual salary is more than twice this amount. Add to it the salary loss a female has post-delivery is she takes a break. Then consider the opportunity loss she suffers for the year she is pregnant and post-delivery, and the long-term impact on her career. The idea of surrogacy appears cost-effective.

If profit and loss analysis is done, surrogacy is the best option for working women. However, not all decisions can be based on money alone. So let us talk about the ethical, emotional, and social dilemmas of surrogacy. Maybe then surrogacy doesn’t sound like that great an option.

1)     Surrogate Mother’s Perspective

In India poor women who have one to two children opt for becoming surrogate mothers. They earn Rs 500,000 to Rs 600,000, which is equivalent to 8-10 years of their salary. The reason they consider this venture is that they can provide for their own children. For them it is good money since they do not have any other viable and legal means to earn a similar amount. It is a way out of extreme poverty.

However, in most of the clinics, surrogate mothers stay at a special accommodation and are provided food, lodging and medical facilities. They are allowed to meet their own family but not stay with them to reduce risks. Hence, the children of the surrogate mother suffer separation and lack of motherly care for 9 months of delivery time. They are forced to make that sacrifice, as their parents are concerned about their future. Is it right for the society and parents to ask children to make this sacrifice for their future?

The next issue is that the surrogate mother goes through a cesarean operation to deliver. She is taking all the delivery risks and health risks to deliver a child of an unknown couple. She carries the child within her womb for nine months and then hands it over to strangers. Doesn’t this amount to exploitation due to poverty?

2)     Child’s Perspective

unborn babyAs such a child has no say in how it is conceived. However, a question needs to be asked to child born from surrogacy – would they have preferred natural birth?

According to medical studies, a child recognizes the voice of the mother from the womb. It also develops physically according to the food provided and psychological stress of the mother. A study showed that the children born to mothers pregnant during the Dutch famine in 1944 ( known as Hunger Winter) developed health problems later in life because they survived on scarcity in the womb. Their bodies developed physically to survive on scarcity. Later on in life when there was abundant food supply their bodies couldn’t adjust.

Considering this, the child will develop physically and psychologically according to the stress and health levels of the surrogate mother. It will get attached and look for security in the voice of the surrogate mother. It will want milk from the surrogate mother.

As a society we are concerned when mothers abandon their children. However, in surrogacy, a child faces physical and psychological separation from the surrogate mother on the day it is born. A study shows that children born through surrogacy face higher level of depression and suffer from emotional issues. Hence, the question is – will they face lifetime abandonment issues due to surrogate birth.

3)     Adoptive /Genetic Mother’s Perspective

A professional women’s biggest dilemma is to have a child or not. If she does, she has to sacrifice her career, if she doesn’t she has to sacrifice her basic need of feminine fulfillment. While a man is not  questioned about his professional competence after becoming a father, a woman has to face doubtful superiors till her child becomes an adult.

The modern day medical science has provided her with an option to go for surrogacy. Nevertheless, will these nine months really have a long-term impact on her profession when she will be questioned every time she asks for leave because her child is sick.

Is it ethical for organizations and society to expect a woman to make a choice between professional success and personal happiness? When professional women talk about guilt of leaving the child home, won’t she feel guiltier on not having her child biologically?

Moreover, will she be able to form a strong relationship with her child born from surrogacy? Will the relationship be that of a mother and adopted child? What will be the long-term psychological and emotional impact on the mother when a child withdraws from her or she feels guilty because she didn’t physically bear the child.

The situation is different if the mother suffers from health issues and there is risk to her child or herself. Then she is fulfilling a dream through someone because she herself is incapable. However, when she is physically fit, the issue takes different proportions.

4)     Biological Father’s Perspective

A man’s biggest psychological insecurity is that he doesn’t know whether the woman is carrying his child or has he been fooled. Before DNA tests, men compensated this insecurity by falling in love, getting married and demanding fidelity from the mother of their child. The social norms were geared to ensure that a man doesn’t bring up a child, which is not his.

To this day, men are willing to sacrifice much for the mother of their children. Even when they don’t get along, they bestow respect and care to the woman for bearing their child.

Now contrast this with the option that they are bearing a child from a woman whom they don’t know and is not their wife. How is the man supposed to psychologically shift gears, care for his wife while ignoring the surrogate mother? He has to change generations of social thinking built into his psychologically.

Moreover, is his wife is healthy enough to bear children, then he has to struggle with the fact that she doesn’t want to physically trouble herself by having his child. She is not willing to make any sacrifices for him or his children. In such a situation, will the man feel loved by his wife, and will he be able to continue to love his wife? What will be the long-term impact on the marriage if a woman chooses to use a surrogate mother without the willingness and consent of the father? Moreover, will the man be able to have the same relationship with the child or will he feel like an adoptive father?

5)     Social Perspective

Presently, the number of children born through surrogacy is low. However, with the strides in surrogacy, cloning, and medical science, it is possible that in the next couple of decades surrogacy becomes more prevalent.

Then a couple of social behavior and culture issues need to be thought about. If the number of surrogate children increase will social conflict and disturbances occur on lines similar to ethnicity, race and color. Will the surrogate children feel discriminated against and should there be special guidelines formed to deal with the issue?

Will the society suffer from lessor level of social bonding? What will be the effects on altruistic nature of humans because childbirth is considered altruistic – a mother sacrifices and risks her life for it. Will the generation become more detached from their parents and face issues of isolation, abandonment, and depression. Will it suffer identity crises?

Closing Thoughts

To some questions there is no easy answer. Humans may be able to justify surrogacy when the mother suffers health issues. However, it is difficult to justify surrogacy from a monetary perspective when the moral, emotional, and psychological cost is so high for all parties concerned. It is not a onetime cost, it is a lifelong cost that each family member has to pay. So do you think surrogacy is an option for working women? Share your views here.

 References

 

The Unreliable Expert Advisers

Let me start by asking you a question – How many times have you written the word “expert” in your resume. Were you, like me, obsessed about becoming a subject matter expert or a thought leader? Are you an ardent devotee of people who profess expertise and give expert opinion in the media?

1.  Experts Know Better

If the answer to the above questions is yes, then let me ask you another question. If a political scientist and an astrologer are giving predictions of the political scenario in India 20 years from now, whose judgment will you rely on?

Philip Tetlock studied 300 experts over a 20-year period and concluded that experts were just slightly better off than the novices were. The expert group consisted of economists, political scientists, academicians, journalists and Phd. Another study showed that a rat was able to predict the location of food in a cage better than Yale students were.

Started believing in astrologers yet?

2.  Experts Perform Better

The counter argument is Malcolm Gladwell’s study, that to become an expert 10,000 hours of practice is required while continuously enhancing the skills to become an expert. Against this backdrop, one would assume that expertise matters and experts would perform better.

Below is a question, choose one of the options.

 

A study conducted by Eric Schwitzgebel showed that old and rare ethics books in the library were missing at twice the rate of other subject’s old books. That meant ethics philosophers were more likely to steal books than other lecturers were. Their expert knowledge on ethics did not prevent them from doing something completely unethical when it was in their self-interest.

Hence, all the knowledge and teaching of ethics would go waste if it were not incorporated in the behavior and personal value system. Does it not raise the question in your mind as to what is the point of teaching ethics in the organization? Maybe it is worth conducting an organization survey to measure the results.

 3.   Risks Can Be Accurately Predicted

After the financial crises, the bamboozled regulators were grappling to figure out why the idyllic scenario collapsed. All the posturing and ping-pong battles by the self-proclaimed risk management experts could not explain how they were caught napping.

The reason is simple. Risk managers and business managers can only predict risks based on their experience and information. For instance, in David versus Goliath battle, Goliath was well prepared. He was strong; he had a shield and a headgear to protect him. However, he was not aware that a slingshot could kill him. Hence, he did not mitigate that risk.

The risk managers and business managers do not have complete information about the present and the future business environment. Business managers normally take decisions when 70% of the information is available. Complete information is not available and the future is unknown. Hence, the next big disaster is always waiting at the next blind turn.

4.  High Performers Take Lessor Risks

Another assumption is that under-performing managers who are at the risk of missing their targets take higher risks than high-performing managers do. A study conducted by Ping Hu on mutual fund managers showed that both low and high performing managers are likely to take higher risks. The high performing managers do not face any employment risks, are comfortable in their positions; hence, take more risks. The under-performing managers take risks to achieve their goals. Hence, risk taking of managers is a U-shaped curve and highly dependent on the employment risks of the manager.

Therefore, the question arises what is the benefit of all the training given to managers. It allows managers to do proper risk mitigation and enables them to take higher risks.

Closing Thoughts

The above-mentioned studies shatter the fallacies and assumptions of confidently relying of expertise. An expert’s opinion may not be worth the paper it is written. So what is the advantage of having trusted advisers within the company?

The key is not to rely on insiders only. Have a panel of outside experts to give impartial view. Moreover, the experts shouldn’t be attached to their own opinion or view. The higher the levels of constructive confrontation within the organization, the better are the chances of doing effective risk management. Additionally, incorporate risk management processes within the business processes, and integrate them in employee behavior, practices, and reward system.

References:

  1. Philip Tetlock’s book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?”
  2. Do Ethicists Steal More Books? - Eric Schwitzgebel, Department of Philosophy, University of California at Riverside
  3. Fund Flows, Performance, Managerial Career Concerns, and Risk Taking - Ping Hu Risk Analytics, Corporate Finance, Wells Fargo, Charlotte, North Carolina

 

 

 

 

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.

Propagating The Case For Moral Education In India

Image Source: www.wallibs.com

Getting education for good conduct is rare these days. In ancient times, the Indian gurus  taught Ramayana, a story of victory of good over evil. Confucius Analects and Socrates discussions are mostly about good behavior, moral conduct, and principles.

Even the Indian festivals focused on building the right culture. For example, the on-going festival Navratri is for worshipping Goddess Durga, representing feminine power.  Devotees dance in the dandiya night, conduct various pujas and fasts, or understand the deep philosophy behind the concept. The three approaches differ on the same principle as reading pulp-fiction for fun, cramming up a textbook, or reading and reflecting on literature. It is just the third aspect that builds character and critical thinking; the other two are vain efforts without lasting effort.

However, 90% of the crowd focuses on the first two. The challenge lies in shifting the attention of the crowd from superficial and superfluous to serious. Unless solemnity supersedes frivolity, no one will venture for intellectual or philosophical thinking. For instance, previously people labelled geeks as weird, now they have a cool quotient. The tipping point reached when a core mass made a huge social impact through technology.  Somehow, education on moral conduct and principles needs to go viral.

In ancient times, the teachers taught moral conduct in one-to-one or a small group setting. It was the responsibility of the teacher to impart knowledge. They could assess each student’s character – strengths and weaknesses. Now with classroom and web-based training, it is the responsibility of the student to learn. Training moral conduct becomes difficult in such a setting, as the student does not receive any personal feedback on behavior.

Parents focus has changed also. A child spends most of the time in studying technical subjects, playing sports or participating in activities. The assumption is moral awareness and conduct will automatically develop without any specific attention.  Another opinion is that all humans know parenting when they have a child. The rate of depression, abuse, and crime among children clearly show that parenting skills do not come automatically. Therefore, do not assume that all parents will be able to impart moral education to their children.

The plants that are regularly watered in a garden grow; the others die. For moral behavior to flourish there has to be dedicated training.

The right time of moral training is to start at a young age; children mold easily. However, this doesn’t mean older people cannot be trained. When educated adults can be influenced to conduct a crime, join terrorist organizations, then adults can also be educated to behave morally. With the right kind of influencing and training, hardened criminals can also change. Quality of water gushing from a fountain depends on the underground supply of water. Similarly, the quality of human conduct depends on the unconscious emotions and thoughts of a person. Education and cultural osmosis changes the unconscious motivations.

Therefore, the challenge is to refocus thinking and approach to life. In the darkness of night, we realize the importance of light. However, when our life is filled with darkness, some humans move further into darkness, some struggle to bring light back into life. The ones who have had strong moral education are less likely to move into the dark life of revenge, vendetta, and bitterness. They are more likely to get their balance back in their life.

The age-old art of storytelling and Socrates methods can be applied on a mass scale using technology. The initial followers and change makers selection is critical. An artisan can’t carve rotten wood. As a sculptor makes the base ready before sculpting, the moral base of the change makers requires preparation. Then only they can act as effective influencers.

However, one size fits all approach shouldn’t be taken. Trees grow to different heights and bloom in different seasons. Human beings capacity of moral reasoning differs and requires different level of effort to understand the concepts. Hence, training should be provided after assessing the caliber of the person.

Closing Thoughts

Moral education makes a big difference in pursuit of happiness in life. Simply put, if we are moral, we harm less people, don’t participate in unethical activities, and are geared to act in a fair and just manner. This behavior itself ensures that a person makes few enemies, and has good relationships with most people. Sound relationships lay the foundation of a happy life. It is not money, but quality of relationships that leave a deep impact on peace and happiness of an individual. For a lush green lawn, a gardener waters and tends the whole garden regularly. For a fruitful life, don’t ignore moral education.

Wishing all my readers a Very Happy Dussshera.

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?”

Routine Activity Theory Implications on Increasing Crime Rate in Indian Society

Cohen and Folsen’s Routine Activity Theory of Crime, appeals to me at an intellectual level to understand the increasing rate of crime in Indian society. However, it contradicts my personal philosophy about human beings. The theory presumes that every human being basically has a criminal tendency and is capable of crime. I believe that human beings are inherently good and each human being irrespective of the crimes they have committed is capable of good deeds. Hence, I will try to discuss the theory without bias and balance the two opposing views. If I sound partial towards my philosophy, then forgive me from the goodness of your heart.

1.      Introduction

The theory was based on analysis of US crime data of 1947-1974. During this period the average income of families increased, number of people below poverty line decreased, education levels improved, and unemployment levels decreased. However, the rate of violent crime in urban areas   increased – rape (174%), assault (164%), robbery (263%) and homicide (188%).

The Indian urban society is showing similar trends since liberalization in 1990s. While growth, income, economy, facilities, education etc. has significantly improved in urban areas, the rate of crime has increased exponentially. Before, in 1960s and 1970s, others would ostracize a middle class person if he were publicly involved in criminal activity. Now, nearly every second person is involved in a corrupt and unethical activity openly. Though we blame it on deteriorating social values, this theory helps us understand why we compromise the values and participate in a crime.

2.      Concept

The theory states that “structural changes in routine activity patterns can influence crime rates by affecting the convergence in space and time of three minimal elements of direct contact predatory violations: (1) motivated offenders, (2) suitable targets, and (3) the absence of capable guardians against a violation”. Lack of any one of these reduces crime. However, the level of control exercised by the guardians has a direct impact on crime. Even if motivated offenders and suitable targets remain the same, if control reduces, crime increases. The theory states that income of the offender does not have any impact on his desire to commit crime and contradicts the popular notion that people with less income have a higher propensity to commit crime.

Source: Wikepedia

Now this can be understood in Indian context. The number of people living away from their traditional homeland has increased as more people are living in nuclear families or as singles in different cities. The change in social behavior has changed the routine activity of people as social controls of family and community have decreased. These aspects reduce the worry of motivated offenders on how their community will judge them if they participate in unethical behavior. Secondly, the same aspect makes suitable targets more vulnerable to crime as protective layers have reduced. Hence, due to this changing social structure, motivated offenders and suitable targets have both increased. With it, the corruption in law enforcement agencies has reduced control. The sum total of it all has increased the crime rates in Indian urban areas.

3.      Effect

Then the theory states that motivated offenders cooperate to strengthen their efficiency in criminal activities. On the other hand, the potential victims join hands to gain collective strength to protect themselves from the attack. The challenge becomes bigger for potential victims when high-net worth individuals undertake criminal activities. The potential victims risk of victimization increases.

From the Indian context, the driver for change in social values has been the thirst for money and power. The higher level of ambition for being powerful and materialistically successful has motivated people to break the traditional social norms and move towards corruption and crime. Previously, the lack of a good criminal justice system was compensated by strict controls from family and community. Now all the three guardians have decreased control and the value of rewards gained from criminal activity is high. The other factor to consider is that voluntary help groups and social support groups are less in India; hence, the potential victims do not get the desired protection. As Cohen said – “it is ironic that the very factors which increase an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of life may also increase the opportunities for predatory violations”. Crime has become the by-product of freedom and prosperity as it has enmeshed itself in routine activities of daily life in Indian urban society.

Closing Thoughts

My personal belief is that for every action, especially criminal or unethical activity, a person needs to ask whether they need to involve themselves in it. When one accepts rewards for the wrong reasons, one cannot avoid punishment for the wrong reasons also. Hence, why go for the wrong rewards in the first place; and if one has received them, why not return them? When one is in a financially strong position and survival does not depend on income from criminal activity, why not refuse to undertake that activity. No one can involve another in a criminal activity if the participants do not wish for any monetary benefits. Hence, to enjoy the benefits of life, say no to crime and unethical activities.

References:

Routine activity theory - Crime Prevention Division – By Cohen and Folsen

 

Impact of Power Styles on Organization Risks

Power, we all want it. If we don’t have it, we associate with the powerful in the hope some of it rubs down to us. Being in the upper echelons of corporate world or the political corridors of the country’s parliamentary houses ensures that you are exempt from the rules applicable to the common person.

However, the way a person gets power and uses it reflects the person’s character, and its influence on others. In the corporate world, the power styles used by senior managers directly influence the risk levels of the organization. Unsurprisingly,  power and politics are undiscussable topics in the corporate world; hence, when risk managers do risk assessments, they ignore the two.

I personally recommend risk managers to understand the individual power styles of the senior managers and overall organization power style. To appreciate the connection between power and risk, let us first look at the power styles and their impact on the organization.

Power Sttyles

Depending on the situation, a leader needs to use various power styles. However, if a leader uses coercive style even when it is not required, then something is wrong. Leaders frequently use power styles of reward and punishment for fulfilling illegitimate requirements. Hence, the probability of followers being involved in unethical activities requiring compromise of personal values is higher. On the other hand, the expert style ensures that followers make informed judgments as the leader attempts to enhance their ethical values and knowledge level. The reward is not in the form of a bribe and is implicit; the leader is dedicated to improving the organization.

Another aspect that requires understanding is the need for creating perception of power. When a leader is undertaking illegitimate activities (watch any Hindi movie to see the underworld Don) he needs to create a strong perception of power by using threat and punishment. Else, his coercive tactics will be ineffective, as people will not cooperate. Therefore, he makes some sacrificial goats to demonstrate that he is above the law and normal rules don’t apply to him. Another tactic is to break the social norms, and not behave rationally and predictably. Both these methods focus on creating fear to ensure compliance. Without the perception of power and fear, the leader becomes vulnerable to revolt from the common person. The only way for him to retain his power is by increasing the number of sacrificial goats, threats, and punishments.

1.   Impact on Legal and Reputation Risks

A coercive leader is usually riding a tiger. The organization risks continue multiplying as more and more people become aware of the unethical practices. An elastic can be stretched up to a limit. Eventually, the concocted environment cocoon will burst and all hell will break loose. The leader cannot trust anyone after a point. Hence, his fear increases in direct proportion to his vulnerability. The leader takes more and more risks to protect his personal fiefdom. The organizations reputation risks and legal risks increase proportionately.

2.   Impact on Human Resource Risks

Overtime, the leader’s charisma wears off. As the layers peel off, disillusion sets in. Employees realize that the leader doesn’t behave with integrity and honesty. Even the loyalists recognize that whenever it suits the leader’s personal agenda, they can face the bullet without any fault of their own. This creates disquiet among employees, and employee disengagement increases. The human resource risks increase manifold with disengaged employees.

3.   Impact on Operational and Financial Risks

The disengagement starts effecting productivity and performance as everyone grasps that meritocracy has no links with rewards. This in turn impacts the bottom line as leader fails to deliver on targets. Failure to show profitability and results makes the leader’s position precarious. The leader starts feeling pressure from the top. As he is unable to improve productivity, he attempts to manipulate results and financial statements. In nutshell, leader’s power style influences operational risks and financial risks of the organization.

Closing Thoughts

No one can deny that success in life depends quite significantly on a person’s power and influence. The general opinion is that means to the end do not matter when we strive for power. On the contrary, how we get power and maintain power, is crucial for longevity in the powerful position. For a coercive leader, the end is tragic, as the hunter becomes the hunted. Moreover, if a leader gets power by paying bribes or giving rewards, his power ends when he stops doing so. His loyalists disappear with speed. Abusing power is no longer safe in the present world, as it increases the personal risks of the leader and the organization risks. Therefore, risk managers need to ensure for continued prosperity of the organization, that leaders get power by the rights means and use it for the right purposes.

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.