Become a villager

Become a villager

In 1985, when I was studying at the IIM Ahmedabad, our Professor of Organization Behaviour (OB) Area was Prof. Pulin Garg. One day he told us a very interesting story which has remained in my mind all these decades. He told us that some years earlier Ford Foundation, the American NGO, did a project to help village farmers to enhance crop yields by using metal plowshares instead of their traditional wooden ones.

They adopted one village and set up their experimental and control plots. The experimental plots were plowed using metal plowshares, made from cast iron, while the control plots were plowed in the traditional way using wooden plows. They monitored the crops over three cycles and proved to the villagers that simply by using the metal plowshare, their yield would be enhanced by over 20%. I won’t go into the scientific details of why this happens here but will suffice to say that this benefit was made clear to the villagers. 

The day before they were to leave the village to return home, the Ford Foundation people called for a meeting with the village Panchayat and asked them if they were happy with the experiment and believed that the use of metal plowshares would benefit them. The Panchayat members and all the villagers agreed that they had watched this experiment and had no doubt about the benefit of the metal plowshare. The Ford Foundation people were delighted and as a parting gift, gave the village enough metal plowshares for all the farmers. The villagers were very grateful and thanked them profusely for their generosity.

Three years later, Ford Foundation returned to the village to assess their project to see how successfully it was functioning. To their complete astonishment they discovered that nobody was using the metal plowshares. They asked the Mukhya (head of the Panchayat) what had been done with the plowshares that they had gifted the village with. They were taken to a storage hut and shown the plowshares, wrapped in sacking, stacked in one corner.

 ‘They are safe Sir’, said the Mukhya.

‘But why are you not using them. We came all this way to teach you this better way of farming. We proved to you that this way is better and you all agreed. We gave you the plowshares as a gift so that you wouldn’t need to spend any money to buy them. But you are still not using them, why?’

‘Sir we are so grateful to you for coming all the way from America to teach us. You are big people. We are nothing compared to you. Yet you took all this trouble for us. You are Mahan (great) people. We are very grateful to you.’

The Ford Foundation project leader tried his best to get an answer out of the Mukhya but any Indian who knows our culture and the trouble we have with direct rejection or criticism will understand, he got nowhere. This is where my professor came into the picture. When he heard this story, he offered to go to the village and find out what was really going on. Ford Foundation needed an answer for their project report, so one afternoon Pulin arrived in the village. Let me tell you in Pulin’s own words, what he told us about this entire incident.

‘I arrived in the village and the Mukhya welcomed me. Naturally we don’t simply start asking questions as soon as we arrive. So, I drank the water they gave me, then tea. I was honored by being invited to stay with the Mukhya in his home, but opted for an empty house which they used for guests (usually Revenue Department officials) because when a stranger stays in a Jat home, it is a lot of hardship on the women, who are in purdah (veiled). I had a bath and changed into a new dhoti (Prof. Pulin Garg always wore a dhoti, even in the IIMA) and we met for dinner. We chatted about everything under the moon except the Ford Foundation experiment. They knew why I was there, but the propriety of the culture must be maintained. You don’t ask the guest any questions and the guest will not tell you why he is there until the basic hospitality is over.

After the evening meal was over, we sat and smoked a hooka when I opened the topic. ‘I believe the Americans were here to show you some new farming ways!’

‘Yes Sir, such nice people. They came all the way from America to teach us how to plow our fields.’

‘What did they do?’

‘They took two fields for their experiment………….(he gave Pulin a detailed description of the entire experiment and admitted that the yield was 20% higher with metal plowshares)
‘Are you happy with what they showed you and are you using the new plowshares?’

‘Sir, we are convinced that their method is superior but we can’t use the metal plowshares.’

‘Why can’t you use them? Is there any problem with the design? Is it difficult to use them? What is the problem?’

‘Sir, there is nothing wrong with the design and it is not difficult to use them. But we have another problem if we use them.’

‘What problem?’

‘Sir, we have a family of carpenters in our village. If we use the metal plowshares, they will lose their livelihood. So, we decided to remain with our traditional method because their well-being is our responsibility.’

Pulin told us, ‘Then I made the biggest blooper of my career. I spoke to them like a management consultant. I said to them, ‘But that is simple. You will get a 20% higher yield. Out of that just pay them what they normally earn by sharpening your wooden plows.

The Mukhya looked at him with a mixture of amusement and pity and said, ‘Sir you are one of us but you don’t understand us. Forgive me for saying it, but you are not in touch with your village. We can’t do what you said.’

‘Why not?’ Pulin was not one to accept defeat so easily.

‘Because Sir, they are artisans (Kareegar) not beggars (Bhikari). We can’t simply give them money and they won’t take it. It is not a matter of money. It is a matter of dignity and pride. Izzat ka sawal hai Sir. They are our brothers and we can’t do this to them.’

Pulin said to us, ‘This was one of the biggest lessons I learnt in my career of consulting about the importance of culture in acceptability and applicability of solutions.

The lesson for me when I heard this story over 30 years ago was even more importantly in the context of our interpersonal relationships. Over the years and decades this lesson has only become more and more clear, more and more urgent. That is why I believe that we all need to become villagers. Naturally I don’t mean that in a literal sense of going back to living in villages and farming the land, though let me say that it would be a wonderful thing to do if we could. I mean that we need to start thinking as villagers; at least like the villagers in this story. Thinking about others, as a part of us.

Let me explain. There are three principle differences between village and urban life. A village is a living being. It is whole. It functions by interdependence and understands how every element fits into the larger scheme of things for the whole village to prosper. In a village everyone has a place and every place is valuable and appreciated. The three elements of being a villager are to think in terms of:
  1.       Mutual responsibility
  2.           Mutual liability
  3.       Mutual accountability

This produces a sense of community which is expressed in terms of shared feelings and reactions i.e. Gaon ka beta ya gaon ki beti (child of the village), Gaon ki izzat (dignity of the village) etc. That is why it is only in a village that you have a Panchayat. Mutual decision making by a group of respected elders (not necessarily in age, though age does play a part in selection to the Panchayat, all other things being equal) who are trusted to consider the welfare of the whole village when deciding a matter.

I know that what I am saying here doesn’t cover the issues with caste discrimination but I beg your indulgence and request you to consider this as an example, which may differ somewhat from reality but still holds true. The difference in terms of caste privilege and discrimination is something to be addressed and eliminated to get to the true benefit of what I am describing here.


Cities and urban living on the other hand are the embodiment of the modern individualistic society that we have created for ourselves, much to our own detriment. It is not to say that everything about a city is bad. It isn’t. But one sure characteristic of the city is that it is all about individualism. Of disconnect between people. Of people living on their own, without concern for those around them, imagining that they are free of them and owe them no responsibility. The biggest icon of this mentality are the thousands of expensive houses in cities surrounded by abject poverty. How can anyone build and live in a million dollar or billion dollar house in the middle of abject poverty, unless he feels no connection at all with those living in squalor all around him? This is not an indictment of the individual but of the urban mentality. The tragedy is that there are thousands of such houses in Mumbai, Dhaka, Johannesburg and almost every other city, which are far removed from their neighbors.  They are like fortresses in hostile territory and can’t exist without electric fences, guard dogs and security agencies. Huge disparities in wealth that don’t produce discomfort or compassion or concern for those who don’t have enough are a typical product of urbanization.

The reason I mentioned this is to draw your attention to my contention that the problems of our world today are the result of global urbanization. It is the ideology of urbanization, not so much about real cities. Even villagers seem to aspire for it. This is the outcome of urbanization in the mind, the unbridled growth of individualism without any concern for the other, the neighbor, even the family. Suicide is a very common cause of death of wealthy singles in America and Japan and the cause of that is loneliness – the other face of individualism.

We have all heard the term, ‘Global Village,’ which refers primarily to the fact that thanks to technology, distances have shortened and communication has become much faster. While this may be a way to look at things, in my view, it is more useful to look at the term ‘village’ in the more fundamental sense of what it is that makes a village, a village. It is not size, but identity, mentality and relationship. It is not affluence or size. I have stayed in very affluent villages in Northumberland in the UK and very small cities in the United States. I was the defacto ‘headman’ of a ‘village’ on the bank of the Berbice River in the Amazonian rain forest, in Guyana. It is how you think, feel, relate and see yourself in relation to others, that makes you a villager or a city dweller.


Globally speaking, if we look at our problems today, they are all related to lack of compassion, not lack of resources. We have enough wealth to ensure that not a single person goes to bed hungry, every child is guaranteed basic education, every home has clean water and electricity and every person has access to good healthcare. But instead we have 62 people whose net worth is more than the combined assets of 50% of the rest of the world. We have countries which over produce grain and dump it into the ocean while there are other countries which have millions living on the edge of starvation or starving. We have countries which are unable to produce food to feed their own people while we have others, where farmers are paid to leave their fields fallow so that the price of grain doesn’t fall due to over production. We know about EU’s butter mountain.

It is price, which drives decision making. Not compassion or concern for those whose need for survival must surely be more important than making money. We have countries whose defense (really offence, but called defense) budgets exceed their budgets for education, healthcare, elderly care, scientific research and housing, combined. This means that the country invests its assets in destruction instead of construction. That this is the case of even some of the poorest countries on earth, is an indicator of the individualistic mentality that I am talking about. Decisions are made to help the rich to get richer, not to alleviate suffering or develop those who need development.

I believe that it is necessary for us to become villagers.

You may say that this is easier said than done. That is the usual reaction I get when I say these things. But my response is very simple. I ask you, if I were to ask you, ‘Show me a way in which we can create a world where just 62 people will own more wealth and assets than 50% of the rest of the world’, you would say that I was crazy. You would say that this was absolute nonsense and simply couldn’t be done. Yet that is exactly what we have managed to create and that too in less than 100 years.

It is my contention that if we change our focus from individualism to concern for one another, reversing this situation is not difficult at all.

The change must begin in the home. It must be reflected in how we treat our neighbors, especially those not related to us directly or indirectly. It must be heard in our conversations. It must be seen in our manners. It must be a heading in our budgets; spending on others. It must be felt by anyone who comes into contact with us.

Being a villager begins by getting rid of strangers by making friends with them. In a village everyone knows everyone else. That is why there is very little crime in our ideal village. Crime is difficult because you don’t steal from friends and you can’t escape from those who know you. So, get rid of strangers by getting rid of strangeness. Make friends. Friendship is built on trust, so build trust. The nourishment of friendship is giving and in that everyone receives. So, give. Make it a habit, to give something to someone every day. It is not about money or material giving. A smile is a gift. Opening a door is a gift. Offering to help is a gift. Sharing food is a gift. Believing the best about your neighbor is a gift. Give gifts, because this brings hearts closer.

I submit to you that we need to see the term, ‘Global village’, not as a statement of what we are but of what we need to become. We need to go back to our beginnings and become villagers and shed our urban covering. We need to meet each other, recognize each other, appreciate each other and acknowledge how each one of us is essential to the other for him or her to fulfill their lives. This is not philosophy or wishful thinking. This is the reality. It is only when we understand how we need one another that we can hope for global peace and harmony. When the head pains, the whole body feels the pain. That is what we need to realize, that we are one body. It’s time we see this.
Never try to change your spouse

Never try to change your spouse

There are two kinds of correctional institutions. One is called prison. The other one is, but is called marriage. One has a specific term you must serve. The other one is for life. In one you get paid to be there. In the other, you pay to be there. Both specialize in trying to make you something which you don’t want to be but which the powers that be have decided, that you must become. You have two choices in both. Fight to the bitter end. Or succumb. There are those who are stupid and those who are smart. The stupid ones’ fight and fight until they can’t fight any longer. If they are lucky, they die fighting. If not, they gradually weaken and end their days in forced submission, their hearts aflame and fluttering like caged birds, yearning to be free, even if it is by death. The smart ones decide early enough that prisoners that fight can never win. They system is stacked against them. So, either they escape. Or they learn to like the smell.

The worst, most degrading, most toxic thing in a marriage is to live under the cloud that you are not good enough. Many children live this life during childhood but with the consolation that they didn’t ask for the parents they got. But what is the consolation for the adults who get into such a situation voluntarily? Living this life is a constant barrage against your self-esteem which can have only one end – bitterness and hatred. But it is amazing how few of those who have power, realize this. That is why I called it a ‘correctional institution’.

It appears when you look at some marriages that the only reason one person married the other was to change them into something that was compatible to their imaginary model. I say ‘imaginary’ because I have yet to come across a spouse who had a model which was both positive and negative. All models that spice want their spice to become are all- positive as defined by them. That is like wanting a ‘white Christmas’, in the Sahara Desert. It is by nature and definition impossible. Trying to do something which is impossible, is to set yourself up for failure. The results are always, without exception, catastrophic. Yet we continue to do this, generation after generation.

Why does this happen?

I believe it is for two reasons; arrogance and ingratitude.

Arrogance because one of the spouses considers themselves to be superior to the other and makes it their life goal to ‘improve’ them and bring them on par with themselves, and so make them worthy of being their spouse. What they forget is that they married someone they liked. They forget what they liked. They are only conscious of what they discovered after the honeymoon; that which comes with the packing and which they didn’t realize because they didn’t read the fine print of the Creator. So, they set about trying to change that. To do that, they must necessarily be dissatisfied with what they have because it is dissatisfaction with status quo that drives every improvement or correction initiative. They thus condemn themselves to ignoring the good that is also in the package because they are so focused on the ‘bad’. That they have cursed their own life, they are oblivious to. That they have become the curse in the life of the spouse, they don’t care because they consider themselves to be a blessing and not a curse. And since they are neither interested in ‘customer feedback’ nor are inmates of correctional institutions empowered to give feedback, the opinion of the subject of their attention is immaterial.

Ingratitude because every person has both positive and negative qualities in them. This hardly needs reiterating but it is so often forgotten or ignored that I must state it upfront. Imagining that something in the spouse is negative because you don’t like it, is arrogance. Ignoring the positive in them and treating it as something that is your birthright is gross ingratitude. Both these attitudes are damaging for the other because it is as if his/her entire existence is being judged worthy or not on one parameter alone – does it please the other person. Before the 18th century that used to be called ‘slavery’. I would submit therefore that if you find that some of what I have said applies to you, please reassess your marriage and ask yourself if you are in a marriage or running a correctional institution?

To be brutally frank, marriage is actually a ‘honey trap’ that exists for the propagation of the species. It exists for one reason only, that children may have a stable nest in which to grow to fledging-hood. All the rest is fluff to make it look attractive to those who are going to do the work and pay for it. Anyone who thinks that marriage is for companionship, supporting each other and so on can easily see that all that costs less to do by itself without signing your warrant for lifetime incarceration. A friend, your therapist, a one-time gift, all cost less, have no complications and leave you feeling good and positive. I have yet to see someone unhappy after meeting a friend or giving a gift.  

So, children come into the world with two parents to care for them, change nappies, pay their bills, buy them the latest gadgets and set them up in life to believe that the world owes them a living. Children born without two doting parents imagining that their piece of meat is God’s gift to mankind never learn this lesson and live in the world knowing that they must struggle to succeed. Hardship that doesn’t kill you always strengthens. So, those who suffered while growing up always beat the living daylights out of those who lived the sheltered life; just as the tree that grows in the crevice clinging to the rock weathers every storm while the one with a lush canopy and shallow roots, is knocked flat by the first gale. If children were not in the equation, marrying someone and pledging to care for them all your and their lives, subjugating yourself to their demands and considering yourself and your life a success or failure based on their subjective judgment, makes no sense at all.

So, what must you do?

Go look in the mirror and tell yourself that the only one in the world who thinks that you are an unqualified blessing is perhaps your mother and that too, perhaps. Tell yourself that you married your spouse because you liked them, not because you found them when they lost their way to their shrink. They didn’t come to be changed. They came to be friends, to share their lives, to slog their butts off to keep you in the style to which you have become accustomed. Surely that deserves a ‘thank you’? Look at their good side. The side you married them for. 

Get a selective memory that doesn’t stockpile all the garbage that every human relationship generates. Remember the good. Get amnesia about the bad. Ask not what your spouse can do for you. Ask what you can do for your spouse. Thank you, President Kennedy. And finally remind yourself that your spouse is human and whatever he or she came with or without is what any other human would come with or without. If you don’t believe me, ask Elizabeth Taylor. And if you don’t like what human beings come with, marry a gorilla.

Does that sound crazy? You bet it is. So, pray that your spouse remains crazy and never gets cured or he will wake up to the fact that your correctional institution has no walls or gates.
DIFFERENTIATE!!

DIFFERENTIATE!!

There’s no such thing as too much when it comes to setting life goals. 
Nobody knows the best that he can do. Limits are only in the mind.

Differentiate on the basis of the only thing which counts – Quality. Be the best in the world at what you do. Forget everything else – just focus on being the best at whatever it is that you do and the rest will follow. And remember, being the best in the world is easy; it is a matter only of one degree. What do I mean?

In 2012, in the Men’s 100 meter race, the difference between the Olympic Gold medal and no medal was 0.25 seconds. (Usain Bolt: Jamaica: 9.63 sec. Ryan Bailey: USA: 9.88 sec.)
In the Indy 500, 2015 the difference between the 1st and 2nd was 0.10 seconds. The difference in prize money was $ 1,656,500 (One million six hundred thousand++).

Only one degree because until 99 they are cents – one more and it is not cents any more – it is a dollar. We never talk about cent value. We talk about dollar value.

Wisdom is the ability to discern difference. The difference between good and evil, benefit and harm between people, circumstances etc.

Life’s assignments are from Allah. We don’t decide. We discover. When we are in the right assignment, we have no rivals. A fish out of water, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t breathe, is clumsy and flops on the earth. But put it in the water and it darts away like a flash, the epitome of speed and grace. Right place, right time. If you are in the right assignment, you have no rivals. So instead of trying to overcome weaknesses, stop and ask if you are in the right assignment. In the right assignment, your ‘weaknesses’ will instantly turn into what they really are, your strengths.

Weakness less about what you have, but more about where you are.

Plant seeds for whatever you want to harvest. So ask yourselves what you want to harvest. Then plant those seeds. Remember that the seed that leaves my hand does not leave my life. It goes into my future ad multiplies. And unless it leaves my hand it can do nothing. So anything that leaves my hand and gets planted in my life is my seed. That will come back to me as my harvest. But anything that I retain in my hand is what I hoarded and didn’t plant. The reality is that even the worst harvest is more than the seed. Give up what you have to get what you have been promised. Nothing leaves the heavens until something leaves the earth. When you give what you see, you get what you can’t see.

Only ‘Overcomers’ are rewarded in life. So every time you ask for a blessing you get an enemy. Enemies don’t come to harm you. They come to open the doors of blessings for you. If there was no Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy.

The only way to differentiate is to show how you can be of service to others. People don’t care what you have until they see how they can benefit from it. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. So show them. We always introduce ourselves in terms of what we have, who we are and where we came from (country, tribe, school, university or organization). While the other person is interested in one things only, ‘What can s/he do for me?’ They don’t care about any of the stuff you told them. Until they hear something that touches their life.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say, my laptop showed me the dreaded ‘Blue Screen.’ I am horrified because like most people I didn’t back up my data and I am now looking at disappearing from the face of the planet because all my data is probably gone down the drain. Then I meet a guy on the train and we get chatting. He tells me that he is an ‘IT Professional’ (that’s how all Indians introduce themselves) from Bengaluru (they imagine that others also like what was done to a perfectly innocent, easy to pronounce name to suit some political urge). He also tells me (and remember his accent it not the easiest for me to understand while my Californian drawl goes clean over his head) that he is in America to study and he was sponsored by his brother in law’s sister. While he is plying me with all this (to him) very interesting detail, I am telling myself, ‘NEVER START A CONVERSATION WITH AN INDIAN EVER AGAIN. I SWEAR I WILL NEVER DO IT. HOW DO I GET OUT OF THIS NOW WITHOUT BEING RUDE?’ Then suddenly I hear in the incessant one-sided chatter that he considers his introduction, ‘I specialize in data recovery after computers crash. You know when you see a blue screen? That means your computer crashed and if you didn’t back up your data, you are finished. That’s my expertise. I can recover all that data and you are back on track.’

Suddenly I forget that he is Indian. I forget what I just swore. I forget that I made the biggest mistake in my life starting a conversation with an Indian. Instead the same guy is manna from heaven (don’t take that literally. Indians are not good to eat), gift of god, the best thing that happened to me. I don’t care about his accent or that he smells of curry or comes from Bengaluru. I love him. I can kiss him (won’t of course). I thank god, my good fortune, the train, the conductor, the seating sequence, you-name-it, that I met this guy.

So what changed? He is a still a lousy Indian geek who doesn’t know how to introduce himself. What changed is that I suddenly realized how he can help me. So who am I seeing in this conversation? Him or me? After my computer regains consciousness I will probably forget this guy. But if I am a hiring manager then this guy just talked himself (even if accidentally) into a job. He delivered an ‘Elevator Speech’ par excellence though obviously he’s never heard the term. That is the meaning of differentiating on the basis of speaking to people’s hearts. They don’t care what you say, until they see how it can help them. So differentiating is about doing this deliberately, not waiting for lucky accidents.

Differentiation creates Brand. Brand creates loyalty. Loyalty gives you influence. Without differentiating you are one grain of rice in a sack. You are still rice, but one grain in a sack.
Focus on Giving

Focus on Giving

The world loves ‘givers’ and hates ‘takers’.
Now this is not just some ‘nice to do’ thing. Think farming. What do you do if you want a great harvest? Plant lots of good seed. What happens if you eat up the seed? No harvest. Life is farming.

Imagine that you walked into the hut of a poor peasant farmer in India at the tail-end of summer, when the monsoon rains are expected. What will you see inside his home? You will see a few pots and pans, some grass mats, the floor neatly swept and smeared with a paste of cow dung which, when dry, gives it a firm surface. In one corner you will see a small stove; three stones with some pieces of firewood on which his wife cooks their single meal. Depending on the time of the day, you may also see a goat or two and perhaps a calf with his mother tethered to a peg outside the door of the hut. You will also see in a corner, kept safely on a low platform of a few bricks to protect it from dampness, half a bag of grain.

When you talk to the farmer he will tell you how they are at the end of their supplies and are awaiting the rains anxiously. He will tell you that he is himself working as a laborer on a construction site to put some food before his family. Hard under the hot sun, but what choice does he have? You ask him how long before he expects the rains to come. He will tell you that the rain will come in less than three weeks. You will be surprised how he knows with such certainty without access to any meteorological instruments, unless of course you remember that he has thousands of years of primordial knowledge handed down in memory from ancestors long forgotten.

Having opened the conversation, you can’t resist asking him, ‘Why don’t you eat the grain in that corner? Why are you working so hard when that grain is more than enough to feed your family until the rains come?’ The farmer will smile and say, ‘You city types can’t understand us.’ Even more strangely, when you return to his home soon after the rains come, you will see an even more peculiar thing. This farmer, instead of eating the grain is now throwing it in the newly ploughed field and burying it in the mud. You can’t but ask him, ‘Why are you throwing good grain into the mud?’ And he replies in his own mysterious way, ‘So that my family and I can eat for the whole year.’ Ah! If only we learn the lessons from life.

To harvest you have to plant. What you have in your hand is the harvest. What you plant in the earth is the seed. If you refuse to let go what you have in your hand, that is all that you will ever have. Instead, if you give what you have in your hand to the world, it will yield a harvest so plentiful that you can’t possibly hold it in your hand. Keep holding what you have and you starve after it is gone; plant it and you will eat and others will eat with you. Keep your fists clenched and you can hold nothing; open your hands if you want to hold anything. If you open your hands to give, they will be open to receive. If you want to hold what is coming to you, you have to let go what you are holding onto. This is called risk taking and it is based on faith – like the farmer has in the rain. He knows it will come. He prepares for it because he is certain it will come. It is not in his hands to bring rain, but it is in his hands to prepare his field to take full advantage when it does come. 

That is why my principle in life is, I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control. Life, as I said, is agriculture – in more ways than one. It is only when our actions rise up to the Heavens that our destiny descends. The nature of that destiny depends on the nature of the deeds that go up to invoke it. We don’t write our own destiny, but we choose which of our many destinies, all written already, we want to live. So choose wisely for you will have to live what you choose.