Thursday, July 21, 2011

absence of thinking

Absence of realistic thinking, depth and context while making plans and promises:

{Note: I have used ‘I’ but the ‘I’ in this article represents not just my own but the experiences of many people. For simplicity, I have bundled all people into ‘I’.}

When you ask a child, what it wants to be or what it wants to be when it grows up or what plans it has for the summer holidays, the child probably gives an answer which indicates its dreams and wishes. The child’s answers to this sort of questions is not realistic i.e. the answers are not based on Practical and available options. A child stating wishes as opposed to sensible answers is okay or ‘understandable’ because ….. "It is only a child".

But such responses from adults are unacceptable!

When I read the newspapers (Times of India & Deccan Herald, online) and read the plans of politicians which are similar to a child’s thinking and a child’s or a retarded person’s lack of depth, it makes me furious.

Just listening to the plans put forth by an Indian politician or bureaucrat, an ordinary but thinking layman immediately knows that the plan is not ‘doable’. Yet, the Indian politicians have continued to dupe the Indian people, for the last 64 years through such empty promises. And the Indian government planners too.

This absence of depth in thinking, absence of details in planning is seen in the behaviours of not just politicians but most Indian people. There is also what I call as wishful or illogical (or irrational) thinking, which governs the wishes, plans, of many people I have come across. The absence of realism in their plans dooms their plans to failure but they never ever try to identify the true cause of their failures. They tend to blame other people, events, God, fate, "Shani-Kaala", bad luck, etc for their failures and make another expensive but ill-fated (as it is ill-planned) attempt again.

I have tried several times to dissuade people from attempting when their plans appear blatantly foolhardy but I have failed. I meet a stubborn resistance. Let me give some examples of such thinking and such ideas which are doomed from the very outset.

The examples I am giving here display the typical Indian ways of thinking; this type of thinking surely leads to failure but the thinkers are unable to recognize this fact!

  • I have begged a high school student to study but he prefers to play cricket. I have tried to tell him that he will be overwhelmed at exam time to study all the subjects as there will be little time but he assured me that he can ‘manage’. Come exams, he rushes to the temple to pray. Not studying the entire month and rushing to the temple to pray to pass in the exams is a typical example of poor planning and wishful thinking combined.
  • I have seen several people buy things which they cannot afford. When I ask them not to buy those things, I am told that ‘they have to buy this(silk sari for example) and not something cheaper(synthetic sari for example) as they will feel humiliated otherwise. When I try to make them think a bit deeper about the issue…for example how they will get the money to pay for silk when they do not have the money, the answers reflect their ….shall I call it shallow thinking or shall I call it refusal to delve deeply or shall I call it complete avoidance of thinking ?

The answers I have got to this question of How will you pay for the sari(or whatever) include:
(1) I will pay it off ‘somehow’ (in my language it is ‘hae-ga-dru’)…when you ask what you mean by ‘somehow’, they get angry and refuse to explain as they really have no answer. This "I will do it somehow" is a classic reply I get to several questions, for which the listener has no true answer. They may as well admit that they do not know but they seem to prefer the face-saving, " I will do it somehow". And the sensible people around them are too polite to push them to answer this question or too scared to push and provoke a fight. I strongly believe that the wise people do not confront the non-thinking people in India as they do not want the non-thinker to ‘lose face’ and feel humiliated.
If all sensible persons always or often confront the non-thinkers and not give up until the non-thinkers came up with realistic plans, then the loss and failures in India would be lesser.
I think, it is better for a non-thinker to lose face and be saved from making a costly mistake than otherwise. I have seen sensible wives remain un-confronting and silent when their husbands are making stupid decisions. I have heard of a laboratory attender in the veterinary college at Hebbal who remained silent when the vet gave an over-dose by mistake and killed a pet dog. He told later, he wondered why the vet gave such a high dose, but he did not have the courage to step up to the vet, because he is a ‘lowly’ attender!
I am sure you reader, have come across several such incidents, especially if you are from a society like India’s.
I have seen over and over again, this silence by the rational people in India when confronted by foolish decisions of the irrational people because they fear the wrath of the irrational; several irrational in India are not only irrational but also have massive egos which bruises easily!
COMING BACK TO THE ANSWERS TO the question, How will you pay for sari…, another answer is
(2) "I will do it later". ….. Then I ask, "Later how?"….Then there is no answer but an angry silence.

  1. "I will save money and pay it off"….". Then I ask, "How will you save, where will you get the money from, you already have no money saved as you need all that you earn?" No reply.

Other examples of irrational choices follow below.

    • Students opting for courses they cannot cope with as they are not able to work hard enough or they are not bright enough for the courses. Either the student makes this wrong choice or the parent forces his child to study even if the child lacks the capacity to cope with the course. Every year, lakhs of students with marks below 50% in mathematics and sciences enrol to study engineering. The reason for choosing this subject are many such as "I will get a good job; or I can go abroad, or I can earn well’ . The reasons which are present but not boldly expressed are " Engineering is prestigious; or I will have to give less dowry(female engineers) or I will get more dowry(male engineers);

When I ask these students, who they expect to cope with the engineering syllabi when they have fared poorly in grades 11 and 12, they give me answers like, " I will study hard"; "I am different now. From now onwards, I will work harder". When I explain that hard work may not be enough, they come up with answers like "I will go for tutions". When they find me too confrontational, they get angry and leave.

Getting into tough courses with which they cannot cope with, leads to evils like copying in the exams, bribing to pass, buying question papers, giving huge sums of money in the form of donations to get into the courses, etc. Later of course, there is the bribing to get a job, doing sub-standard work at job and not losing the job in spite of poor performance due to inability of the Indian government to fire its employees!

Once I did the IQ assessment of two boys (twins) who had just passed 10th standard on the request of their father. Their IQ indicated mild mental retardation and I was wondering how they could pass the 10th exams with 70%. Then the father confessed that he managed to get them 70% as he had ‘contacts’. He wanted my advice about their future and I told him their level of functioning and what options were available for them. He refused all options offered and told me that he is putting them into PUC, science stream! (i.e. 11th and 12th grades). I told him that it was impossible as his sons could not even do 5th grade subjects, who can they cope with 11th and 12th. He told me that they have to get through PUC and degree; if not, what future will they have? What he was saying was so bizarre and illogical but I am sure he would have made it work! He would have paid their way through, got them government jobs, and they would draw salaries. Maybe they would even get married and their wives would look after them!

As I am writing this article, I am realizing a few things my stream of ideas is on fire today!

One is that the impossible is seemingly possible in India due to many reasons; as long as we Indians can get away with illogic, we will be illogical! . Due to the practices of ‘buying’ things which cannot or shouldn’t be bought, such as a good marks card, a good seat (e.g. seat in a medical college) a good job and even a good ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ (through the practice of the dowry system,) people do not try to build logically towards their goals but simply buy what they desire.

Propping is another reason why the impossible is seemingly possible in India: Propping happens for various reasons. One chief reason for propping is the India's denial of truth and inability to face it, for fear of shame and losing face. An example of propping would be a medical student going for tutions as he cannot cope with the medical school. He would rather fail, take exams againa nd again, take tutions, turn out to be a mediocore doctor than admit he is nto fit to study medicine.
 Another example of propping is where two are hired to do one person's job. Another is where the entire family pitch in to help one family member to do a jo; a job that, one should be able to do.... or an entire department pitch in to prop up the person who is not doing his share of work.
Another example of propping is where the more able person in a lower position, does all the work for the one who is higher up but lacks the capacity to do it.........the boss presents his subordinate's work, and takes credit for it! Students write papers and it's published with the professor as first author!
Propping is not seen as fact, it is considered as 'helping' in some contexts. The lines between helping and propping is sort of blurred in India. I have seen friends get upset, when their 'friend' refuses to help them with their 'copying' in the exam or refuse to help them with their homework or project...refusing to prop is like refusing to help a friend. the one sho refuses to help is supposed to feel guilty! The well-to-do brother who refuses to 'help' his brother who is not doing well is another example of propping. Many Indians are torn between helping and letting the true worth of a person show....

The lack of accountability and responsibility when things go wrong encourage the people to be careless about planning. For example, when the wall of the newly built veterinary college wall collapsed on and killed a person standing by it, no one involved in the construction was held accountable or responsible. The engineer, the contractor, the builders just got away with it! This happened in Bangalore and I am sure, Indians will recall millions of such incidents where so many get away. When there is no demand to be accountable or responsible, when plans fail, then there is no strong push to make people plan better to avoid failures.

In India, often, innocent persons get blamed when things go wrong. For example,

I have seen wives being blamed for the alcoholism of their husbands; The causes of alcoholism are many and none include a bad wife but the wife is blamed.

Another example is women being killed in the north, accused of being witches and bringing bad luck to the villages; Someone falls sick in a village and some innocent, unlucky woman in that village is blamed for her witch-craft causing the illness!

Another example is of women getting blamed when they are sexually assaulted; Instead of punishing the assaulter, the assaulted victim is blamed for ‘provoking’ the attack by dressing ‘provocatively’ or ‘staying out late at night’.

I am sure the reader can see the absurd cause-effect relationships in the minds of Indian people (Not all Indians but a significant percent of the one billion plus!)

Superstitious thinking is one major cause of illogical thinking in Indians.

Blaming Vaastu, Shani-Kala and presence of any one of a whole range of ill-omens when starting an enterprise or something important is often seen in India. I am sure you readers from India can recall several examples in your own lives. I have seen one guy’s business gradually sink. Instead of finding out why the business was not doing well ( the reason it was not doing well is obvious to any person with common sense; you don’t need an MBA to figure out why) the family blamed it on Vaastu of their house and demolished their car-garage! Needless to say, the business did not get better and they had to close it! The business they had was extraction of ground-nut oil; while middle class Bangaloreans were using ground-nut oil in 70s and 80s, they slowly switched over to the ‘palmolin oil’ which was cheaper and more abundant than ground-nut oil. It was also available in the ‘ration shops’ and people simply found it cheaper and better. This ground-nut oil business-running family stubbornly refused to either realize or acknowledge the change and their business went under. But they were illogical in their thinking and thought that by demolishing their anti-Vaastu car garage, their business would improve! The loss of resources in India due to superstitions will run into millions of US$.

Another aspect of poor planning, illogical thinking is that proper analysis of failure to find out causes of failure is not done. Therefore, poor planners get away with irresponsible, unrealistic plans when things go wrong.

Some examples of poor planning, which lead to huge wastage of resources is given below.

The government of Karnataka decided that every house in villages should have toilets. They ear-marked a huge amount of money for this scheme. But there was no planning about the type of toilets to be built, no study of the people’s attitudes towards the toilet-design, no study done about the resources needed for using a toilet in the villages was done. As you may already know, there is no running water in majority of the villages in Karnataka. Often, women have to draw water from wells and carry home, water in pots. Due to difficulty accessing water, most villagers, did not use the toilets built! They used the toilets to store things! The government should have either provided for water too and not just build toilets or built ‘dry’ toilets or done research to find out what type of toilets suit the different villages and built accordingly. So, lakhs of rupees was spent on these toilets which were never used. No one was ever taken to task for designing such useless toilets and the poor planners got away with it!

Distribution of tinned non-vegetarian tinned food at Kutch district after the major earth quake was another stupid waste. Most people in Kutch are vegetarians. And this food cost huge amount of money as it was flown by air from other countries!

Anyone who lives in India, has to simply look around and millions of such examples of poor planning will be visible. There is such poor planning of many engineers with regard to construction of roads, bridges, buildings, public vehicles, etc.

It is not just poor planning and disregard to details or the context but it is also the corruption which leads to failures in India

 Even if a plan is good, if there is corruption (there is 100% corruption in all government work in India). For example, the plan given by the engineer may be flawless; however if the builder builds with shoddy cheap materials as he had to bribe to get the contract from the government, he will use cheap materials to make his profit. As one looks around at any government project in India, the flaws due to poor planning, flaws due to corruption are visible to the blindest bystander! If you read the newspapers of India, you will see countless articles of buildings which fall even during construction, bridges collapsing, new roads unfit for driving within one season of rains, scores of people killed and injured by human errors and engineering errors. All these are avoidable if the planning, execution was good, if people were held accountable when accidents happened.

The Indian approach even to major works is extremely superficial and there is no depth in the planning and approach.

This is seen in several major and minor governmental and private people’s works. Pilot studies are not conducted. People's attitudes are not studied before acting on an idea. People's acceptence or rejection of what the government want sto give the people is never considered; plans are made and enforced without due research. Assumptions are made without verifying. Often many many Indians boast of their 'speed of work' and dont talk of quality. There was one Kannada film person who boasted about making a film in the shortest time and he did it! Though the film was awful! In order, to get the business, people make promises of' speedy' work,' cheapest' work, and so on;  and the buyer unfortunately does not seem to realize that it is 'speed' or 'low-cost' at the cost of quality. Slip-shod quality of work is seen in all, construction, transport industry, whatever area.

Lack of co-ordination between departments, between people is another example of lack of thinking in Indian government and people: This is another major problem seen in government work. Let me give you an example. I saw a road near Yelahanka Old Town, being dug by one set of workers. It disrupted the people's movement, parking and of course the businesses of eh people in the area. The digging was done to lay the water pipes. Within a few days, another set of digges came and dug teh same area to lay the cable. Once again there was disruption. Within a few days, again, digging started, this time by the telecom people! If there had been any co-ordination betweeen the departments, this sort of frequent digging in the same road, would not have happened.

Wrong priorities: Things which need more care get less and things which are unimportant, have hours of attention lavished on them! This is again a type of error in judgement, leading to problems.

Here is an example below:

*I have seen guys spend many days going form shop to shop to find the perfect pair of pants or find the perfect pair of shoes and gals spend hours trying to find the exact shade blouse material, lip stick or sandals for their saris. This shows an admirable attention to detail, right? And if you chose the wrong pants or shoes, or blouse piece or sandals you are poorer by one or two thousand rupees, right?

Yet, these same guys and gals who paid so much time and attention for getting the right shoes, pants, blouse or whatever are so hasty in selecting a life partner!

You will see the guy, come down from USA, on a three or four week vacation, meet a few girls (whom he has never seen before) and decide to marry one of them(if the girl too agrees). The girl too, sees a few guys, whom her parents have selected, meet briefly, and decide whom she is willing to marry and convey to her parents. They get to speak to each other and ask a few questions. That is the extent of their getting to know each other!

I sometimes find that these people have spent more time selecting a pair of shoes or a sari than selecting a spouse! Talk about priorities!

Major decisions based on sentiment than facts

: *I have seen major decisions made because of a favourite child in the home opting for it. I agree that we should respect children but imagine selecting a car costing lakhs of rupees because a four year old in the house, wants that model!

Decisions based on old and out-dated knowledge:

 Believing that "Old is right" and "New is wrong" is another major belief that influences decisions in India.

Any change is rejected even without trying; anything old is accepted without testing(the fact that it existed is proof it has passed the test of time). This preference for the old and rejections of new causes such a great deal of stresses, loss of time and resources.

People in villages refuse to accept several new techniques of farming available.

Another example is the refusal to switch in some households (and mutts, temples, etc) from wood to kerosene; from kerosene to electricity; from electricity to gas.

Insistence of building the new houses, etc using old and currently more expensive and less available resources like teak wood. Refusal to change architectural designs to suit the current constraints of space, light, air in cities. One example of people’s stubborn refusal to change is the Bhuj area reconstruction after the massive earthquake about 10 years ago. United Nations was ready to fund reconstruction of houses, if the people accepted the new earth-quake proof designs. People refused and wanted to build their houses in the old way i.e. use of bricks and stone for multi-storey structures. Bhuj is prone to earth-quakes and in the last devastating earth quake which happened on Republic day, hundreds of school children and people were killed as the buildings built of brick and stone came crashing down on them; the children were marching on the streets in the republic day parade, with their families standing on the pavement watching them..

This sort of sticking to old ways even when new better ways have been discovered is leading to several poor decisions in India.

The quick changes, adaptability and acceptance of new knowledge and ways of life or ways of doing things seen in the west are absent in India. I do know that India has changed a lot and adapted a lot but it is still short of ideal.

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