Monday, March 19, 2012

Change the way you value people

Hmmm! Should I be honest in expressing what changes I really want in Society? That I would want the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to confer $1 billion on me for refraining from involving myself in any way in the working of Society? That I would love to be covered by every magazine under the sun on the cover page and people seeking my autographs, wherever I go, for my inimitable ability to spend time doing absolutely nothing? That my overweight, bald, pug-nosed persona should be the romantic and, dare I say, erotic fantasy of every woman? (Masochistic fantasy, you say? Absolutely not! Who is doing the wishing here, anyway?)

Money! Social Respect! Attractiveness to the opposite sex! If you are in a position to stop worrying about the necessities of life, these are the driving needs for what people do! Money is required for necessities as well as luxuries. Beyond that, what you do look forward to is the respect of the people around you, which includes allure to the opposite sex. Of course, when you are young, social respect almost exclusively means the regard of the opposite sex! The problem, to me, is that today almost everything – social respect, regard of the opposite sex and whatever else – is exclusively driven by money. 

‘Don’t give me that! I am not looking for money in my man. All I want is for him to love me and be a romantic. My ideal man would go down on his knees in his yacht on a moonlit cruise in the Mediterranean, slip a platinum ring on my finger and propose to me. If he is that romantic, I would not care if he were poor as a church mouse! I’d marry him with pleasure’, you say, Ma’am! I do understand that it is not the guy’s money that you love, it is only his romanticism.

‘Nuts to you, dude! Who is looking for a rich girl? I can earn my way! All I want is that my girl dresses up neatly in designer-wear, uses sufficient cosmetics to look and smell good, has the gadgets necessary to keep in touch in today’s world. Who wants to go around with a dowdy behenji?’. Quite, laddie! I know it is not the lack of money but the lack of taste that bothers you!

‘Why should you always talk of men as the provider? Woman can do anything that a man can do, you bloody MCP?’. Quite true, Ma’am Feminist! But I am yet to find general acceptance in Society for woman bearing the primary responsibility for providing for the family. So, as yet, I shall have to address my comments to the attitudes of the majority!

Make no mistake about what I am trying to say. I am not against money. Money is an exceedingly useful tool and a necessity. So also is a screwdriver but I am yet to hear of any great social respect being accorded to a person who collects millions of screwdrivers!

What we spend our money on is driven first by our needs. Beyond a point, however, we spend on things merely to preen ourselves in the face of society much like a peacock flaring its feathers to attract a mate or a teenager doing hand-stands on his bicycle. What we call success is achievement of goals defined by society and, thus, it is primarily social respect we work to achieve.

Money-making as a criterion of social success is quite acceptable. The problem is when the possession of money is an unqualified certificate of success and the absence of it is an unqualified definition of a loser. There is a saying in Tamil ‘Naai viththa kaasu kuraikkathu’ (Money, made out of selling a dog, does not bark). Money can be made by any means and, thus, does not mean that the person concerned has actually contributed to society commensurate to what he has earned.

If money is an unqualified criterion for success, those who can will earn and those who can’t will cheat. (Before you say ‘and those who can’t do either will whine’ and point that at me, let me hasten to add that I am an IIM MBA and, thus, I am certainly one of those who can earn! That is another thing to change in society – the tendency to analyze the person saying something rather than analyzing what is said!). One of the reasons, in my opinion, for the proliferation of corruption is the exclusive dependence on money-making as an unqualified criterion for declaring social success.

When I keep using the word ‘unqualified’ what I mean is that the respect for a person’s money should come only when the means by which he earned it are also worthy of respect. In other words, there ought to be more respect for a less affluent person who earned his money by the sweat of his brow than the more affluent man who cheated his way to riches.

If cheating is eliminated as a source of riches can money then be the sole criterion for granting social respect? In fact, the very foundation of the rationale for making the possession of money as the grounds for social respect is the assumption that money is earned by a person commensurate to the value of his contribution to society and, thus, the more money a person makes the more valuable his contribution to society has been. Is this necessarily true?

Would you say that the contribution to society of a BPO employee is at least twice that of an elementary school teacher? (Please! I mean whether you value elementary school teaching as half as important as getting customer calls. If you get into arguments about the quality of teaching and all that, I have to say that the thrust of my argument is that if you paid teachers more, you would get better teachers!) Does the chap who structure derivatives contribute about a hundred times the value to society as a cardiologist? What of the man who inherited land in Sarjapur Road in Bangalore? His contribution to society is worth a hundred of us? Let us understand that the market economy is flawed and incapable of properly valuing services to society nor, indeed, is it meant to do so.

Where the blind workings of a market economy are incapable of motivating the best people to work in the most valuable jobs to society, Government is supposed to step in and do the needful. Here you have a Kapil Sibal limiting remuneration to IIT professors and simultaneously bemoaning the fact that good quality faculty is not becoming available as though he finds it mystifying that a chap who does a PhD from a US Ivy League university does not leap at the chance of working for peanuts in a society which is learning to look down on professors!

One anecdote about the workings of government should settle the issue of whether you can expect the government to do a decent job of ensuring remuneration to those important jobs which the market economy fails to encourage. MS Dhoni hit 183 against Sri Lanka and won a match for us. About the same time, a bus driver in Delhi -Kuldip Singh – jumped out of a bus with a live bomb in order to save the lives of his passengers and lost his eye-sight in the process. Dhoni was granted in excess of Rs. 1 crore for his contribution to Society and Kuldip Singh got Rs. 5 Lakhs. Both these amounts were paid by state governments and, thus, we get a clear idea that winning one match is worth twenty times risking life and limb to save a bus-load of passengers in the view of our leaders!

You still have at least some good quality teachers, professors and even Kuldip Singhs in society but, make no mistake, they are there despite the fact that they don’t get paid well. If the market economy as well as the government will not help in ensuring their remuneration, they will not have as much money as their counterparts elsewhere. So, using possession of money as the sole criterion, should we also respect them lesser than the BPO employee and the derivatives dude? Since home-makers do not get paid at all for their services, is their contribution to society ‘Nil’ even if they keep their family healthy and bring up well-adjusted children?

As has been said earlier, beyond a point, the sole use of money is to preen in the presence of society. If society accorded respect to teachers regardless of their monetary status; to government doctors merely for being government doctors etc. then, maybe, it will prove a substitute to money - to the extent that it is used merely to catch the fancy of society. If so, there would be better quality people coming in even if the remuneration is lower (though not so low that they can’t maintain a decent quality of life).

A case in point is in the arts. Even though there is more money in varieties of popular music you can still see a lot of youngsters performing in the Carnatic Music season in Chennai - driven merely by the quest for peer respect and popularity amongst the cognoscenti. If Social respect can render a vocation attractive regardless of the lower monetary compensation it could well work for society at large.

When one talks of Social respect one needs to talk of specifics. What is meant is that no uncle says derogatorily, ‘Arre! Why do you want to become a teacher? Go into IT and you can make millions!’ to a nephew who wants to do his B.Ed. No father says, “Could you not find someone better than a college prof. to fall in love with? You could live like a princess with this financial analyst”. I can probably give endless anecdotes on how we talk derogatorily of the very professions that form the backbone of society and then bemoan the declining quality of these professions.

To give one example of how ordinary people drive negative influences in society let me tell you what they used to say about government employees as potential bridegrooms in my youth. ‘He is in the government. His salary is about Rs.1000 per month but he earns thrice that in additional income.’ This additional income is a euphemism for bribes and it was stated as an additional attraction of the bridegroom! So, then if the same chaps then go out in protest against corruption, do you think that protest is going to work?

If there is, indeed, a change that I ardently wish for, then it is that Government, at least, learns to adequately compensate those vocations of importance to Society and Society accords respect to what people do and with how much dedication they do it rather than to what they possess!


  1. Excellent analysis, CS. Full agree. Don't know though how this kind of change is going to come.

  2. Thanks TF! Well! I thought if one had to wish for changes one might as well wish for the moon:)

  3. A very different kind of change proposed here. Great thought!