Having settled back in the shadow of the Alps yet again, I am filled with a sense of exhilaration and awe. The heat of India has got replaced by the chill of melting snow. The dust has given way to fresh air which is invigorating. In the cobbled streets, litter is missing. The greenery and the snow-capped mountains are a relief for the eyes. The ears are just about getting used to the soothing silence which has replaced the relentless honking on Indian roads. Courtesy in public spaces is once again leaving me dumbstruck.
But the stark contrasts do not end at the physical level. There are differences in the mental make up. The value systems which govern our behavior appear to be differently configured. The forces of nature and nurture which have shaped our personalities are quite different.
East and West can both learn quite a few things from each other.
What Indians can learn from the West
- Respecting the Public Good
In the West, we find better respect for the public good. For instance, public spaces are cleaner and drivers on roads are courteous. On the contrary, in India, we keep our houses clean and water our gardens everyday – but, when we go to the beach front, we litter the place with gay abandon.
In an office setting, a friendly colleague could get chastised for being careless on a project. In India, a criticism would either not be made – so it may not hurt the feelings of a friend – or taken personally by the recipient.
Corruption is another manifestation of the same lack of concern for the common good. Society is relatively corruption free in the West. In India, corruption, tax evasion, cheating and bribery have become a part of daily routine.
Apathy towards solving problems which affect the ordinary citizen is another dimension. In the West, people form groups to solve common problems in a proactive manner. In India, we see serious problems around us but do not try to solve them. We either believe that the problems do not impact us directly, or it is for someone else to resolve the issues.
- Openness to Learning
If we have to progress, we have to change this attitude, listen to people who have performed better than us, learn from them and perform better than them. In India, we appear to have perfected the art of rationalizing our failures and explaining them off by misquoting our scriptures. We are good at finding excuses to justify our incompetence, corruption, and apathy. This attitude will not do.
Another interesting attribute that we Indians need to learn from the West is that of accountability. Irrespective of your position, in the West, you are held accountable for what you do. However, in India, the more ‘important’ you are, the less answerable you are.
Organizations whose top honchos indulge in illicit relations with their team members need to be pulled up and acted against as firmly as a junior cashier who siphons off money from the till.
- Dignity of Labor
Dignity of labor is an integral part of the Western value system. In the West, each person is proud about his or her labor that raises honest sweat. On the other hand, in India, we have a mindset that respects only supposedly intellectual work.
A peon deserves as much respect as a Head of the Department. CEOs whose fragile egos are shaken by someone else parking his/her car in the normal slot needs to do some introspection.
- Discriminating between Intimacy and Friendliness
Indians tend to become intimate even without being friendly. They ask favors of strangers without any hesitation. Rudyard Kipling once said: A westerner can be friendly without being intimate while an easterner tends to be intimate without being friendly.
Those who have worked as expatriates in another cultural setting would readily attest to this.
In India, more than 70% of the time of senior managers is spent on follow-ups; just ensuring that what is committed is indeed delivered. Delays are easily explained, and so are cost over-runs. Keeping a person unduly waiting is a sure sign of seniority in an Indian organization.
Here is yet another lesson to be learnt from the West – that of professionalism in dealings. Managements in the West ensure better work-life balance for their employees.
What the West can learn from India
Indians are part of a culture which has deep-rooted family values. We have tremendous loyalty to the family. For instance, parents make enormous sacrifices for their children. They support them until they can stand on their own feet. On the other side, children consider it their duty to take care of aged parents.
In organizations, we often find executives who are competent as well as extremely loyal. Also, respect for seniors is deeply ingrained in the system. There are times when juniors find it tough to take independent decisions. Very few are adept at registering a dissent with their seniors. Successful organizations have a culture which is designed to overcome such handicaps.
- Family: A Critical Support Mechanism
One of the key strengths of Indian values is the presence of so much love and affection in the family life. In India, families act as a critical support mechanism for employees. Thus, resilience is better.
In the West, it is common to have break-ups when the career prospects of a manager nosedive. This adds to the stress experienced by a manager. Mental disorders present a much greater challenge. Predominantly, life has a materialistic approach, leading to a vacuum within.
- Managing Chaos
Indians have improved upon the art of managing chaos and disorder. Even in high entropy situations, Indians tend to keep their nerve. Perhaps, this leads to better levels of perseverance as well.
Successful management of a human congregation like the Kumbh Mela is but one example of this trait.
Upbringing steeped in religion and spirituality enables an average Indian to face adversity and failures with equanimity.
Learning from Different Value Systems
Values are like mountains. They have survived for centuries and shall continue to do so much after we have kicked the bucket. Universal common denominator is that of, say, love and affection. Over and above that, value systems differ across continents and cultures. When it comes to values, every culture has its own Unique Selling Proposition.
In this age of globalization and connectivity, mingling of diverse cultures is bound to happen. Learning from other value systems and adapting their good features is the only way to enable humanity to realize its full potential faster and better.