Indian National Elections and the Lens of Relationships
Our world has too much of damaged trust, and broken relationships.
What has that to do with elections, such as those starting on Monday, 7 April, in India as a whole?
Well, let's work that out, starting with a consideration of relationships and how broken they are in our world.
I am thinking not only of divorces, and children’s suicides because of lack of understanding with parents, but also of recent Indian newspaper headlines such as:
- "Coal India Limited executives go on a 3-day strike" (http://www.thestatesman.net/news/44345-cil-executives-go-on-3-day-strike.html)
That, surely, is about damaged relationships between a company and its executives.
Or consider this story:
- "Indian businessman in jail (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/show-us-the-money-says-supreme-court-refuses-bail-to-subrata-roy
Does that not reflect broken trust between the businessman and India’s Supreme Court, as well as the businessman and society at large?
Further, I am thinking, within our country, of damaged trust between our politicians and our people.
The current elections are like a beauty parade in which there is no one who is actually beautiful, so you are forced to look for who you consider the least ugly.
What has caused me to have such mournful meditations? Well, I have recently been asked to chair the Relational Thinking Network or RTN (https://www.facebook.com/RelationalThinking).
Relational Thinking is a lens for analysis, a framework for understanding, and an agenda for action (http://www.relationshipsglobal.net/Web/Content/Default.aspx?Content=32).
As a lens, Relational Thinking (RT) enables us to bypass materialism and individualism. Instead of prioritising income or profit as the goal for personal, corporate or government decisions, RT prioritises relational wellbeing– since ultimately it is our relationships that matter most in life.
Learning to think relationally calls for a Copernican revolution: instead of placing material wealth, or individual rights and freedom, at the centre of our values, with all other things including relationships revolving around them, we place relationships at the centre, to reflect better what we ultimately value.
Consider a simple decision such as buying a microwave oven: you can look at the decision financially (can I afford it?), or spatially (is there room in the kitchen?), or environmentally (how does this affect my carbon footprint?).
Instead, we should look at the decision relationally: would having a microwave enhance or lower relational well-being in our household? What is it that we need to do in order to ensure that the reduced time spent on preparing food permits more time for talking together over the meal, rather than leading to family members eating at different times and not talking together at all?
As a framework for understanding, Relational Thinking challenges the ruling consensus which pursues economic growth whatever the social cost, and leaves the resulting poverty and broken families for ineffective tax and redistribution policies. Instead, putting relationships first asks for the protection of families and communities while pursuing growth, and thus avoiding the need for subsequent redistribution and social intervention.
For example, a relational system of criminal justice would replace the current emphasis on retribution or mere rehabilitation of offenders with the primacy of reconciling relationships between offenders and the victims of their crimes, because that is what will permit offenders to be restored as responsible members of their community.
And Relational Schools would not focus on enhancing the ability of each child to maximize individual achievement. Rather, relational schools would focus on nurturing the ability to relate well to others, to take responsibility, to contribute to the well-being of family and community (both local and global), and to what it takes to build a lifelong relationship as the foundation for a new family.
Relational Businesses would reject the idea of maximizing “shareholder value” whatever the cost to the other stakeholders. Rather, a relational company would seek to maximize relational well-being among all stakeholders. Short-term profits often come at the cost of long-term sustainability.
Relational Thinking also provides a framework for analysis of personal as well as organisational relationships. The principles for analyzing relationships were originally outlined in Michael Schluter And David Lee’s book, The R Factor and subsequently developed into the Relational Proximity Model™ by the Relationships Foundation:
• DIRECTNESS considers whether and how the degree of presence in a relationship is mediated by technology (email, phone, texting etc.), time, and other people.
• CONTINUITY: the currency of relationships is time! What matters is how much time is spent on a relationship, as well as its overall length and stability.
• MULTIPLEXITY examines the breadth of knowledge in relationships: work, family, hobbies, community involvement, past experiences.
• PARITY deals with power in relationships; is the relationship is not that of equals, does the use of power foster participation and respect?
• COMMONALITY considers the extent to which goals and/or identity are shared; where they diverge, especially through hidden agendas, tension is created in relationships.
This is all very good. But, in most of the developing world, including India, do we not usually have excellent relationships with our family and friends?
Our challenge in India is rather that we have damaged or broken relationships with society as a whole (e.g. people of other castes, religions, languages....). We also have broken relationships with the natural environment. It could be argued that these are a direct consequence of our broken relationship with God (or Truth or our conscience – call this what you will)... but that takes us into a very wide field.
So let us restrict ourselves to this: at a time when our national elections loom, do we also have a broken relationship with our country?
Most of us seem to be obsessed with: “How can I do well?".
Some of us evidently even think: "How can I exploit my country for my own benefit?"
How many of us really care if such attitudes lead to the weakening and perhaps even the destruction of our country?
By contrast, Relational Thinking encourages us to ask “What can I do for my country?”
That is because, at the heart of Relational Thinking is the feeling of generosity, the knowledge that there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for even one person’s greed.
Elections are merely a mechanism for choosing some individuals as our representatives. But these representatives cannot serve the people if they have no sympathy or generosity.
So, in the elections, should we really vote on the basis of ideology or caste or family or muscle power or wealth or intelligence or corporate experience or so-called "track record"?
Should we not vote rather on the basis of heart qualities?
Born and brought up in Delhi, but from the age of 3 to the age of 8 in Amritsar and started school on holiday in Srinagar. Leaving Amritsar, at school for a year in Solan. Otherwise in Delhi, studying at J. D. Tytler School and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, then at St Stephen's College, where I eventually taught for 3 years. Then 3 years at North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Political exile from India in 1976. Lived/studied/worked in Scotland for 3 years, England for 16 years and Switzerland since then.