Are Our Gurus a Tad Too Cool?



Thanks to a recent post at Sunday Posts, I came to learn about the 500-million-rupees lawsuit filed by an admissions recruitment agent and a leading business school against Delhi Press’ Caravan. The article has since been taken down, thanks to a court injunction, but like good porn or pirated music, is not that hard to find. It makes a fascinating read, not only from the perspective of the organization and people it speaks of, but also from the standpoint of the negative-balance morality that society is plunging headlong into.

I was struck by the closing paragraph of the article, (which, for all legal purposes, doesn’t exist any more), where the writer wonders why the right thinking people of our times, the ones struggling to make a difference to our social fabric, and the ones desperately fighting to save a planet that policy makers no longer seem to care about, come across as misfits and losers when compared to the “thought leaders” and success stories of today. I hope this will stimulate your curiosity to search for Sidhartha Deb’s article called The Sweet Smell Of Success. Finding the answer to Siddhartha’s wondering is simple; figuring out what to do with the answer is not. This, however, is not the only question that is ringing the bells of the enlightened masses.

When did vices turn into virtues?
The last century and the promotion of free enterprise (with its deification of profit making as a noble pursuit) has legitimized greed, and all that comes with it, and in the process robbed the negative connotation from most other vices too, as long they are indulged in to promote wealth creation. I am no more communist than our ministers are honest, but that does not mean I subscribe to what has broadly been accepted as communism. 

I am not an economist either, so many of my doubts might seem naive to the old boys network.  I pride myself on the schools and colleges I went to as much as anyone who went to any school or college, on my uncertainty regarding how to pronounce seldom used English words, and on being brought up to be human, on being humane, and on being able to exercise wisdom, prudence, courage, faith, and of, course, compassion.

From where does wealth get created?
I wonder how we as a civilization got sold on this crazy concept called “wealth creation.” When I study the lives of great enterprising business leaders, I learn that they dedicated their lives to wealth creation. Now, call me stupid, but the last time I looked, there was a finite amount of all types of physical wealth on this planet. I know that the United States periodically creates notional wealth by raising its debt ceiling, something it started doing not now, but from 1791 (no typo, that one!!), but my lay logic tells me that if a business is creating wealth, that wealth, like indifference or love, must be flowing from somewhere, at the cost of something. In earlier models, this was done from the value added to products and services through the economics of scale and efficiencies. 

No stretch of mystic thought, no drinking down of Ricardian potions, can convince anyone that productivity, efficiency and profit margins built on growing volumes are like a shopping budget and can expand infinitely. I, at a personal level, have invested enough studying productivity and efficiency to buy that, as have many others. How did we, as the descendants of thinkers like Socrates and Aristotle, Kabir and Ashoka, Shakyamuni and Confucius, Jefferson and the Luther Kings, fall into this trap? Read on till the end for the answer to this one, since I don’t have an answer for where wealth gets created from.

Why do heroes look like villains?
There is something truly wicked about the universe’s sense of humor. We live in the largest democracy of the world, yet our elected representatives come across as least interested either in democracy or in the primary stakeholders of a democracy, the citizens. A random poll on the streets with the simple question, do you think our politicians came into politics to serve the people, will suffice.

On the other hand, people who actively network to promote right thinking and value based living get victimized by powerful vested interests, get sidelined into oblivion or get shot like Shehla Masood. One thing that is common to all these crusaders is the benign amusement, a blend of fatherly tolerance and high-society indifference, with which both the corporate and governmental systems treats them. Remember the recent faceoff between the Sibal-Chidambaram-Tiwari group and the Anna team? Why do our heroes look like villains or, at best, naive nobodies? Why do our villains embody all that we aspire for? Or at least till they are in jail.

Teach your children well, teach them to question everything.
The answer to all of these questions lies in the classic us-and-them paradox, the quantum disentanglement that changes everything once you go from being one of the ranks to becoming their leader, from an indebted small businessman to a mining baron, from being just cool to becoming guru cool. Once you go from being “one of us” to “one of them,” all that you believed in changes, and as the “new” us, you have only two options, don’t make waves and play along to keep appearances up and the boat steady, or to stand up for your values if you can find them any more. To reverse this, we will need the courage to teach our children to first unlearn what we have taught them so far with our lives and examples.

At the crux of this is being yourself, being able to see yourself for who you are, where you are headed and what you are doing to get there, being able to live with the answers to what your values are, whether your values are your own, and what you want to be remembered for. The solution to this problem lies in reworking our entire world view.

As a kid, I was always told that my generation exemplified all that was wrong with the world. I have never agreed with that point of view, but looking at the mess we are in, there appears to be some truth in it. Our entire education system is geared towards teaching kids to reproduce information and achieve grades and scores that will translate to job guarantees and wealth creation. Of course, this is not done so blatantly, but disguised as competitiveness and being the best. We as parents have chosen to assuage our guilt of having outsourced parenting by diligently going through 16-page half yearly report booklets for pre-teens. We ourselves have fallen into the trap of materialism, overconsumption, and living off debt and EMIs that will not allow us to slow down and enjoy the sunset or a football game with our children. Why blame anybody else?

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