Reflective analysis of individual, state and society ‘mode of thinking’ in times of pandemic

The state of a country is largely influenced by the modes of thinking of leaders and collective thoughts that drives the established norms of society. This article is an attempt to reflect upon different ‘modes of thinking’ from the context of individuals, society and state as it can influence our response to a crisis like this pandemic and its outcome. It builds on the foundation of human ‘agency’, the power people have, to think and act and how these choices that may be influenced by our background, social structure, environment and other factors shape the society.

With every industry, business function and geography affected adversely, the challenges ahead seem intimidating. Covid19 has significantly changed our way of life. Organizations globally are still trying to figure out how to function in the short and long term. While a large no of employees, have lost their jobs, got laid off or forced to work at a reduced salary, a majority are living with heightened sense of job insecurity. India’s unemployment rate spiked at a record high of 27.1%, according to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) in April 2020. Of the 122 million who have lost their jobs, 91.3 millions were small traders and labourers. But a fairly significant number of salaried workers – 17.8 million – and self-employed people – 18.2 million – have also lost work. Unfortunately, India had entered the lockdown with already high unemployment levels. At 8.7%, the rate was already at a 43-month high, up from just 3.4% in July 2017 (CMIE). The challenge ahead is restoring normalcy finding the right balance between public health and economic sustainability. Living in constant fear, with death lurking over us, this pandemic calls for discussion, and deliberation on pertinent issues to stabilize our economy and ourselves.

The state of a country is largely influenced by the modes of thinking of leaders and collective thoughts that drives the established norms of society. This article is an attempt to reflect upon different ‘modes of thinking’ from the context of individuals, society and state as it can influence our response to a crisis like this pandemic and its outcome. It builds on the foundation of human ‘agency’, the power people have, to think and act and how these choices that may be influenced by our background, social structure, environment and other factors shape the society. Being in white collar jobs, our prime concern center around the threat of infection in case of resumption of work, maintaining our liquidity, job security and sound mental and physical health. But there is another class, the worst hit, the bottom of pyramid who are fighting heart wrenching dismaying battles in current times. Yes, I am talking of that 48-year-old Jokhan Yadav who died on Shramik express, after going without food and water for over 60 hours trying to reach his hometown Jaunpur. The pain of migrant labourer Jatin Ram’s wife Bindia, who walked over 100 km from Ludhiana, delivered her first baby after reaching Ambala on May 23 and the child died shortly after birth, can never be eased. In a country currently overtly sensitive about religious identities one story that garnered immense limelight was that of Amrit Kumar and his friend Mohammed Saiyub. Trying to reach his native village in UP Basti from Ahmedabad in times of lockdown severe dehydration took the life of Amrit Kumar. There are many such distressing stories of labourers in the cities succumbing to hunger, heat, exhaustion and accidents as they try to reach their home covering hundreds of miles on foot. Stories and images that will continue to haunt us even if we shut our senses!

This article as mentioned before is not about questioning the government for their conditions. Humanists and journalists are doing this job. The government has already collected and sanctioned crores of funds for relief. While the supporters of the current government will vouch by this data, others may raise doubts on the announced funds reaching the needy ones. If the society is plagued with an unconscious bias such that loyalty of people has shifted to its leader or government instead of one’s country or countrymen, I wonder if writing also can create any impact. We all are guilty of accepting, believing and promoting information that is coherent with our ideology or beliefs. So, if I have strong faith in the existing government, my mind will reject any proposition that could challenge my belief in the system. The most widely adopted response to any controversial issue in such a case is not to research or ask questions but to accept the one that matches my belief. A phenomenon described as confirmation bias, that talks about the human tendency to search, interpret favor and report information that matches our personal beliefs/values distorting our judgment.

In current times of pandemic, businesses, governments, citizens all have a critical role to play in establishing a human centered business model. The primary aim being adapting to agile ways of working and optimizing on the resources within the existing limitations. To understand and reason the state and society’s sense of agency in such times, I am using the ‘modes of thinking’ as articulated by Indian management thinker Dr Subhash Sharma to examine the situation from a management perspective. Broadly speaking individuals/society tend to be guided by the following modes of thinking.

(1) Power acquisition: When the key individuals in society are driven by the power motive, and thus, bureaucratism and militarism become the ideology.

(2) Calculative: When individuals are driven by the accumulative instinct and capitalism becomes the ideology. The society then displays a high degree of accumulative instinct, and individuals are generally guided by competition, greed and self interest (CGS) philosophy.

(3) Knowledge acquisition: When intellectuals and knowledge workers who constitute the ‘knowledge class’ tend to play the dominant role in society. However, if the dominant mode of thinking of society is driven by power acquisition the voices of knowledge class risks getting crushed without getting due weightage. We saw a glimpse of it when more than 40 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets returned awards from the country’s most prestigious literary institution, the Sahitya Akademi four years ago, protesting the increasing communalisation of our society. It did catch the attention of media and common man but also led to series of sarcastic memes.

(4) Liberation from Oppression: When the driving force is to seek a change, and thereby, bring about a transformation by freedom from oppression. Oppression could be in various forms such as, economic, social, cultural, linguistic, racial, ethnic and religious. In this mode of thinking, liberation becomes the ideology. We often get to see it in action when we see feminists trying to break negative patriarchal norms, or activists fighting for gender inclusivity or thinkers raising their voice for oppression of a given minority.

(5) Concern for Others: When humanism tends to prevail. The driving force in this mode of thinking is the feeling of empathy towards others, including other life-forms. We get a glimpse of it in people voicing their concerns for the lesser privileged and sharing their monetary or other resources with the worst struck poor or migrant workers. An example of the same worth mentioning here is the true story of Baba Karnail Singh Khaira, an 81-year-old Sikh who was featured in Mumbai Mirror, for feeding 2 million people on a remote Maharashtra highway free of cost. True incidents like this showcasing generosity in times of pandemic reflect this mode of thinking- concern for others.

Each mode of thinking has certain implications for individuals and for the society. When a specific mode of thinking becomes the dominant mode of thinking within a society, society tends to acquire the characteristics represented by that mode of thinking.In any given time a society is characterized by the multiplicity represented by these modes of thinking. Many times one mode of thinking attempts to suppress the other modes of thinking. As mentioned before humans are endowed with the characteristic of ‘human agency’, i.e., the capacity to ‘order the world’. Appreciating this fact, it’s time to reflect and assess what mode of thinking is guiding our individual behavior and the actions of those governing us? For, this mode of thinking influences how we view the problems around us! For example, the calculative mode is likely to take a one-dimensional view of reality, but concern for others shall be influenced by a perspective that considers not only human but environment and other life forms.

It’s important to note here that our ‘modes of thinking’ get influenced and reproduced by multiple factors like educational system, media, family environment, workplace culture, friend circle and affiliation to certain groups. If there is an incongruence between telecasted media facts, ground realities and personal experiences we need to reexamine the sources that could be influencing our thinking. In current times of economic downturn, pandemic induced uncertainty, religious polarization and tragically affected poor vulnerable workers; it’s high time we need to figure out what should be our dominant mode of thinking? I leave it on you to introspect on what mode of thinking is currently dominating our government and society after an unbiased review of the reality. However, in current circumstances, I believe as individuals we need to be driven by liberation from oppression and concern for others.

The very capacity in us to order the world according to our dominant mode of thinking may lead us to dialogue, debates, conflicts and hostile clashes or maybe constructive conflicts, possible reconciliation, utilitarian collaborations. There is still a hope for a brighter future where the pain of our fellow brethren doesn’t come to haunt us if we capitalize on our human agency with the principle of ‘inclusivity’ driven by concern for others. The powerful phrase ‘Sabka sath sabka vikas’ for a country known for its rich and diverse heritage shall cease to be merely an election aphorism, if it is not reflected in words and actions in times as adverse as present.

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