Saturday, February 21, 2015

Monday Musings 222 - The Procustean Bed, Work and Relationships

Monday Musings 222 - The Procustean Bed, Work and Relationships
Procustes, in Greek mythology was someone who had a queer sense of hospitality. He would entertain his guests well and then make them lie on a bed. If they were longer than the bed he would chop off their legs and if they were shorter, he would stretch the victims till they equaled the length of the bed. In today’s times we do not need a Procustes to do this. Each one is sufficient to inflict this to himself.
Essentially the bed of Procustes indicates perpetrating the violence of chopping or stretching self to what we ought to be or have. What we were meant to be or have can go take a walk! What we are and do have be damned! Ironically and tragically it is not Procustes who is perpetrating this violence on unsuspecting victims but the ‘I ’who is doing it.
This violence is most visible in two spaces – at work and in relationships.
All of us have notions of what is our ideal work with ideal designation and with ideal money. Usually it is at variance with what we have. So we become active Procustes. We mindlessly and incessantly chop parts of it that is not up to our liking. We ignore those aspects of it which are such a terrible drain even if that is core to that work. We abhor certain activities which are a part and parcel of that role which are not what we enjoy but if removed it has the potential to adversely impact the role itself. We want to do only parts of it – either the creative side of it, or the leadership side of it – and rarely the administrating side of it or the networking side of it. There are parts of our jobs that we would be so happy to hand over to Procustes!
Apart from the procrustean chopping, there is also the tragedy procrustean stretching at work. The perpetual desire to want more keeps us perpetually dissatisfied with our current situation. The notions of success at every stage, heavily deriving from our own sense of ambition and fuelled by peer comparisons, keep us precariously on the edge of dissatisfaction.  What we do not have from our work is the single largest source of angst today, may be with the exception of relationships – of all hues.
The Procustean tragedy corrodes relationships too. There is always an expectation mismatch that is plaguing it. Something that is supposed to only be the source of joy, companionship and bliss becomes a source of unending grief. We want more when we cannot have it – the bed is only so long! So begins the soul destroying task of stretching – of putting ourselves through the very excruciating process of wanting more, in the process either ignoring or giving up what we had the fortune of having. Strange are matters of human want!
Yet other times we want to chop off certain things about a relationship that we do not like. It’s like saying I do not like Violet from the rainbow and let me remove it. Even a child knows that if you do so, you have deformed the rainbow and the rainbow will not exist anymore. Yet again we risk what we have at the altar of what we want. Strange are the matters of human want!
The Procustean bed has an explanation in poetry.
Ye Dil bhi ek bachhe ki manind hai
Ya to ise sab kuch chahiye, ya kuch bhi nahi
(The heart is like a child – either it wants everything or nothing)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Monday Musings 221 – The Left, The Right and The Cubicle

Monday Musings 221 – The Left, The Right and The Cubicle

Way back during my B School, at the peak of the Israel- Palestinian conflict, during a country report presentation where I had chosen to study Israel, my professor asked me a question – “so as a businessman would you invest in Israel?”  I had poured over the history of Israel way back to their first displacement  thousands of years ago in the run up to that presentation and had developed a soft corner for perhaps the most traumatized people on this earth in the name of their faith and also perhaps the most resilient. Such was the impact of what I read that I forgot that I was answering a business professor not a sociology one. I got a C minus or its equivalent  because I answered ‘Yes’ because the professor opined that here was a case of a poor manger who had allowed his sentimentality overrule his rational judgment, a prerequisite for being successful in the corporate world. Israel never left my consciousness since then and neither did the C minus.

The business world at most levels shuns the issue of political affiliations or sympathies because the belief is that these two are distinct worlds and the employees political beliefs do not matter and hence are not material to his business decision making and thus must be kept at a distance. I am sure there is great merit in this, but I am increasingly coming to a conclusion that these might be important after all. Let me argue it out.

The right of the political establishment usually believes in economic liberalization but has strong views about individual liberties and how much that should be allowed. Indian right has strong views about religious freedom, freedom of expression of speech, gender liberties, rights for LGBT, as the American right has strong views about the church, abortion rights, LGBT again so on and so forth. Similarly the left of the political establishment in India or Europe usually believes in liberal stance on issues of individual choices like religion, gender, sexual preferences so on and so forth but has mixed up economic priorities which often lead to depressed economic growth. One does not have the best of both worlds!!
Leaders have to live in the two worlds of the ‘right’ and the ‘left’ together – and higher up they are the more critical this balance is.

Leaders have to deliver results under very trying internal and external circumstances. This demands from them a world view which believes in the delivery of business result and if it means a sacrifice of the individual liberty, for the larger good, so be it. Such leaders in their own mind are being true to their raison d’ etre, which is take a task to fulfillment. It is not that softer aspects like co creation and co option, sensitivity to human emotions, tolerating dissent, respecting divergence of thinking are unknown to them but in their hierarchy of criticality these are subservient to the grand objective of “geting the damn job done”, a sentiment that is very rightist.

Increasingly organizations are measuring, highlighting and hence becoming sensitive about leaders who not only deliver results for them but are also upholders of individual rights, liberties, tolerant to all kinds of diversity and for the want of a better word, philosophically speaking believers of humanism. No wonder the universe of behavioral training and leadership development programs borrows so heavily from the world of belief, philosophy and sociology. These are influences which are essentially leftist.

The conundrum is as follows – will a person with right leanings ever understand, appreciate and adopt liberal principles in his leadership style? Will attending all leadership development programs to develop such sensitivity work at all? And will bleeding heart liberals ever be consistent in achieving results or allow their bleeding-heart-liberalism cloud their business judgment. A C minus in real life can be disastrous.