Saturday, March 26, 2016

Monday Musings 258 – The cottage industry called guilt

Monday Musings – The cottage industry called guilt

‘’Guilt is a manufactured emotion...” shouted the twitter message “... to sustain religions’’ it added quite provocatively. Let me stay with the first part of the sentence for the purpose of this musing and also in the interest of personal safety.

We have to give in one thing about guilt for sure – it is an emotion that is literally taught to be felt. Let us look at all other negative emotions closely to illustrate the point. Sadness, depression, grief, disappointment, hurt and other cousins of this family of emotions happen automatically to us. No one really teaches us how and in what circumstances it must be experienced. No one can be forced to experience it – it is a natural human response to things that are not going well as per plan.

Now let us contrast this with guilt. A tiger feels no guilt in killing the deer – but we are taught from early on that killing needs repentance because it is wrong. I know it is a gory and a stretched example, but the dramatic often drives home the point better than subtlety, isn’t it?

Right from early childhood children are coached to feel guilty about things that they don’t do as per prescription. A child who does not share must feel bad about it, a child who does not listens to his parents/elders must feel bad about it (this part is often accompanied with drama and histrionics in Indian homes!), a adolescent (to be read gender agnostically) not following the norms of attentiveness and submission in love must feel bad about it and so on and so forth. In the arena of marriage i will refrain from illustration because i know my reader is getting the drift by now.  So when we enter adulthood with years of education in all kinds of circumstances we must feel  guilty about it, this sense of guilt becomes hard wired in us. It becomes our default response. We become programmed. A child is not born with any sense of guilt – he only knows how to cry and how to be happy.

One would be forgiven to believe that this guilt is a cottage industry and everyone is selling it in the bazaars, in small measure or large. However one must be sharp enough to also see that the business of guilt is organised crime against free willed souls.

This is how the whole thing works. One designs an elaborate code which teaches us all the places where if one is not pandering to the established norms, one is supposed to feel bad about. The key word my friends is ‘supposed to’ – meaning that someone else is governing for us what we must be feeling bad about.  The greater the experienced misery, the better is the atonement! The guilt must not only be felt (as a matter of force) but it must also be visibly expressed. (there is nothing called guilt in private). You see, the whole business is staged around an explicit performance of demonstrated atonement. Thank God they have abolished self flogging in these parts of the world.

Finally the funny thing about guilt is this – if for some strange reason you have discovered that this business of guilt is something that is a cart load of crap and you don’t really feel like feeling guilty, then the guardians of guilt will make you feel guilty about not feeling guilty (“ see how shameless you are – not even feeling guilty’’. Sounds familiar?

I am rolling on the floor. This is biggest scam on earth i have discovered. And guess what – i am not even feeling guilty in saying this – how shameless!!


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Monday Musings 257 - Humour at workplace

Monday Musings 257 - Humour at workplace

In a high powered meeting the other day, a quote from Mark Twain floated like a misty cloud – ‘’Never believe a news unless rumour has confirmed it’’.  Needless to say that it was received with tremors of laughter.

Organisations are an amazing place if you can see through the pretence of invincibility and hyperbole. Everyone is only doing something of great significance which is significant only in their eyes. Others rarely agree with them in the degree of significance, even if they are magnanimous enough to admit that there is indeed some significance. The good news is that this cycle is very secular – we treat others with the same sense of the dubious as we get treated.

I often compare other professions with that of a manager. I mean a potter makes pots and he knows that he makes the pot. A snake charmer catches snakes and farmer grows food. Things are so simple in being able to understand and equally easy to explain. Now try explaining with the same degree of simplicity what managers in modern organisations do. I mean attending 5 meetings, responding to 200 mails and participating in 3 conference calls is surely some pursuit but calling that as daily work is stretching the imagination a little too far – isn’t it?

Before you start calling me names, let me admit I am pretty much a part of the same game – only that I have a sense of humour. I wish it was found more. I can see humour in unlikely places and sometimes in places where the default response should have been grief, I see humour. I share two aspects i find intriguing.

At any point of time, the formal organisation is rather reticent but the rumour mills are buzzing. This is a very secular phenomena – happens everywhere. The possibilities with the rumour mongering are unimaginable – it can be safely called as the theatre of the absurd. (I was thinking of the word macabre but on second thoughts changed it). However it is clear that is very entertaining. Sometimes I believe that it serves as a good stress buster. Workers need their share of the fun – don’t they? Law of averages also suggests that at least one of the rumours will always turn out to be true. So at least one author will have the last laugh while many will wait for the next turn to turn on their creativity.

The second most fascinating aspect of modern workplace is the boss- subordinate relationship. I think it surpasses the wife-husband relationship in its complexity, pretence and absolute lack of seriousness. I think both know that the charade is on only till the show is on – and once the lights come on the movie stops. (I think I am being reckless in writing this publically – but what the hell – I can always say ‘’I was misunderstood’’). I read this ‘’Tell your boss the truth and the truth shall set you free – of your job that is’’. I think this is a brilliant piece of truth. Bosses should stop taking their being a boss this seriously and the subordinates should not add to that inflation. However someone smart also warned ‘’Always laugh heartily at the jokes of your boss – it may be a loyalty test’’. My only submission in such situations is ‘’Conditions apply - Read the offer document carefully’’.  This is a subject where someone must attempt a doctoral thesis – but suggest he quit before attempting it and also renounce the world. This will take time for sure.

For those whom have had the bizarre experience of having me as a boss, I can assure them that I am different and far better than you have given me credit for – particularly after you have had a few drinks and after a review. I must tell you – ‘’I am not bossy – I just know what you must be doing’’. I rest my case.

Humour – such a fascinating ability. Humour at others expense – priceless!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Monday Musings 256 – Conclusion first- Proof later.

Monday Musings 256 – Conclusion first- Proof later.

What is it about misplaced priorities that humankind (note I have not used the word mankind in the interest of heightened political correctness) is so susceptible to? What is the lure of the easy and contingent that so overwhelmingly overpowers the difficult but right?

Decision making is a very deeply researched subject these days – and it is replete with biases we suffer from. (for more on this one can read the brilliant Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman). There are a list of biases that operate to make us chose what is logically often the flawed option.  We search and get what we always wanted to find and often overlook what we don’t want to find even if it is available to us right in front of our eyes (confirmation bias).

I find the notion of confirmation bias so particularly overpowering and vicious simultaneously. In a deeply divided polity and deeply opinionated meeting rooms in the corporate world, the pervasiveness of the confirmation bias is almost depressing.

The adherents to the left and right keep throwing research, data, evidence and proof daily to prove the intellectual and emotional basis of their ideology. The trolls on the social media do the rest (I doubt most of those who forward even understand the intellectual underpinnings of what they forwarding). May be what they forward confirms only what they want to believe (classical confirmation bias). So their belief and their biases keep getting deepened every day. Since the vice of the confirmation bias is so strong, they do not see (or want to see) evidence and logic to the contrary, no new understanding of the issue gets built. I can only quote Rick Warren to them. “People ask me – are you right wing or are you left wing? – And I always say – ‘I am for the whole bird’. A one winged bird didn’t ever get off the ground’’.

The board room and the cubicle are more subtle in its being the victim of the confirmation bias. All data is susceptible to opinionated interpretations. Data can be mined in order to strengthen the bias. We know from experience that books have been cooked – so cooking up a presentation is kids play, isn’t it? But cooking up data conjures of malafide intent – I am talking about the cooking up of data that happens when no conscious cooking is happening – it’s just that we are searching for validity of a view point through data, rather than let the data do the talking and help build a view point. The conclusion is reached first and then support for validation is sought. All planning is susceptible to confirmation biases. All strategy is susceptible too. Who will guard against it?

It is not difficult to find that the tokenism overpowers true action. What is crucial and critical is rendered to the margins and the easier option gets acted upon – well precisely because it is easy. In this brilliant book ‘Fault lines, one Raguram Rajan, who would later on become our RBI governor, traced the origins of the financial crises. According to him, because the political masters could not urgently and immediately solve the American problem of education and health, they began the easy option of providing them easy credit. The rest of the story is known to all of us.

Kabeer says

Duniya badi baanwri, pathar poojan jaye,

Ghar ki chakki koi na pooje, jiska peesa khaye.

(The world is crazy, worships the stone idol; but does worship the stone flour grinder which prepares food).