Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Politics of Change

“… there are times when the world is in flux and the right voice in the right place can move the world.  Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, for instance.  Bismarck.  Lenin.”  [Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card]

The most repeated refrain at my workplace now is “change.”  The focus is always on change from within.  We’ve had a number of “workshops” on the theme.  A lot of Stephen Covey has been shoved down the throats of the participants.  The latest “workshop” ended a couple of hours back.  The participants were enlightened on the 90 / 10 principle of Covey, according to which we cannot change 10 percent of the reality because that is not under our control, but we can change the remaining 90 percent because that is related to our response to the reality.  For example, if my little daughter topples the coffee cup on to my shirt during breakfast, I can choose to let out my ire first on my daughter, then on my wife for being careless about where she placed the cup, then on my car for not being fast enough... end up paying the fine for over-speeding and then making a mess of everything at the office.  OR, I can choose to offer a gentle advice to the girl, change my shirt and proceed coolly, and be a winner.

Well, the choice is about my response to the situation.  So far so fine.  I wouldn’t disagree much.

The expert proceeded to argue that the real change should always be “from within.”  I raised a doubt that if everyone was working on changing themselves from within, the system might never change.  A corrupt political system like the one we have in our country, which propelled the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party, will flourish...

The answer given by one of the participants is that it is we who choose our leaders.  So Covey’s theory is valid: we change our choice of the leaders.  Ha!  I sat wondering how many leaders of my choice exist in the 600-odd political parties in our country.

A more logical answer, I think, would be that even the leaders should change themselves from within.  Wow!  That would be fantastic.  Fantastic, indeed.
After the workshop, one of the participants asked me: “What if I change and become the ideal person, and quite many others refuse to change and remain selfish, greedy, jealous...?  Won’t I end up being exploited by them?”

“Why didn’t you ask the question in the workshop?” I asked.

Not one participant had cared/dared to raise his/her hand when the expert asked them whether anyone of them would agree with my view that Covey’s theory was not applicable at the macro level.   

I think Covey’s theory is as good as the Communist principles or the teachings of the Buddha or Jesus or Confucius... If the whole world is willing to change from within, the outcome will be a paradise on earth.
But how many people will actually change from within?  My colleague’s fear (above) is extremely relevant.

I’m more inclined toward practical solutions.  That’s why I began this article with a quote from Ender’s Game.  The novel is about a battle school.  I haven’t even read half of it yet.  But I don’t mind applying the metaphor of ‘life as a battle’ to our day-to-day existence.  We can take all the inspiration possible from religions, psychology, or any other source.  But, in the end, we live in the world of the gazelles and the lions celebrated in an African saying (quoted below), according to which the only real option available to both the gazelle and the lion is: start running if they want to survive.  The lion has to run to catch its prey, and the gazelle has to run to escape from the predator.  [An interesting post on a theme very related to this is Raghuram’s latest one: Innocence Undefined.  By the way, it is Raghuram who couriered me his copy of Ender’s Game.  I wouldn’t read this science fiction had he not taken the trouble of forcing it on me.]

The world of human beings isn’t much different (claims to pure vegetarianism, notwithstanding).  Here too, survival is a struggle for many.  A Ben Franklin, a Tom Paine, a Lenin, a Gandhi... will be required once in a while to speak the right word at the right time.  If I may recall Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a cry in the wilderness is known to have started an avalanche.

 “Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”


  1. Wow.. that is one intelligent post.. I agree with you Matheikal.. but i believe a should bring the change that our conscience impels us to bring.. life is a journey towards actualization of the self and about being the best person that you can become.. In the end, what matters is how i fared, not how everyone else fared... if we keep thinking about other, nobody will change.. world will become a jungle where survival is the only motivation.. i believe there is more than that about being humans.. thanx for the post.. i loved this one.. some intelligent thoughts very well written..

    1. Thanks, Deepak.

      I too think that there is more to humans than the mere instinct for survival. That's why we have moral, social, political and religious systems. In spite of them, we have much - too much, in fact - evil too. So we have the onus of searching for effective solutions. I'm just thinking loud...

  2. “What if I change and become the ideal person, and quite many others refuse to change and remain selfish, greedy, jealous...? Won’t I end up being exploited by them?”

    I am confronted by this question, at the most trivial level, everyday, as I ride the Delhi Metro. I proceed to the doors of the train unhuriedly (like the gazelle that is not trying to run the fastest it can)and I hardly ever miss boarding the train. Whether I jostle / push my way through the crowd or not, it is nearly certain that I will not get a seat no matter I rush or I amble to the the door. This is when I ask, am I allowing myself to be exploited. Even when I answer yes, I ask is this anything significant? I invariably say no. What I mean is, at the higher levels of exploitation (as defined by one's own threshold) the survival instinct takes over. It is in the gradual increase in the threshold level, FOR EVERYONE, that will ultimately reduce the level of exploitation (discounting the few black swans).

    By the way, I DIDN'T forec the book on you :) I did not reveal what I was sending you because of two things. One, I was worried that you will cite your workload and ask me not to loan the book to you, and I was keen on you reading it. Two, I am averse to calling any book as belonging to the Sci-Fi genre, because I think the genre is false, does not exist. I wanted to discuss / argue on that with you, after you read the book.


    1. The person who asked that question about being the ideal person is the dearest one to me. I wish she she had raised the question in the workshop. I wish she raises herself to that survival level!

      The rest doesn't [don't (?)]matter to me.

      I have finished reading the book you sent me. I enjoyed it at a very different level, not as fiction. Yes, Raghuram, there indeed is a difference between real literature and the rest. I can discuss this at some other time.

      I hope to write on Ender's Game soon.

  3. Oh that Stephen Covey, 'the author of the 7-habbits of highly effective people'. He was a great motivator for corporate business.

    If you read the book,( I have not read the book but on the book), he is excellent. But my concern is what is he doing in the system of Indian education? As far as my knowledge about the Indian society is concerned, it is highly unlikely that he fits into there. Yes change is the key basic word.

    But individual changes should function in unison with the national changes. In a nation built still on lies, corruption, croon-ism, feudalism, imperialism, it makes me laugh how Covey can be accommodated.

    And your story, well, I see little relevance to that in education. The model of education cannot be the one derived from model of plant kingdom or animal kingdom:)

    Well, I am sure you know by now, very well about Covey, yet I am adding a summary of his 7-habbits.

    1. I'm familiar with the 7 laws of Covey, the 7 laws of Deepak Chopra and the 10 commandments.

      I must thank you for one thing. One of my colleagues raised this same question that you're raising here in a slightly different way. He was met with derision. I think "workshops" have become a business in their own way.


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