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Politics of Hope

By Sindhujaa Kumar for The Economic Times, August 2020 Column

While the world is reeling with economic tremors, nature’s fury and political earthquakes – we have been driven into the trenches of truth, conscience and grit to finally own up to the collapse of old socio-economic institutions.

Politics today constitutes ‘Us versus Them’ thinking - “My Party is better than your Party, your candidate is a criminal while mine is a saint, my philosophy is the only valid philosophy while yours is a hoax.” It is exhausting – this politics built on malevolence, oppression and dogma. Harnessing the powers of hatred, fear, bigotry, racism and greed – in the coming days, will not withstand the surge of a new generation rising up to burn away Collective Hatred with Collective Love. Politicians, corporate authorities, tarnished institutions – will NOT survive the uprising of decency, dignity and inclusiveness.

The world is powerfully seeking politics that is not built on division, but on civic engagement, empathy, more social capital and peace.

Polarized politics has paralysed societal well-being. We are helplessly witnessing our elected representatives scrabbling for the steering wheel, driving the bus with all of us jingbanging in it – straight into the abyss.

Here’s a new approach.

Many believe that by getting rid of the ‘bad’ people, the system would be refreshed. But the problem is, when you shoot down one bad guy, another will simply take his place. There’s no shortage of ‘their’ kind! Why? Because, as a bunch of awakened social warriors have been pointing out to us- IT ISN’T THE BAD GUYS CREATING THIS SOCIAL SYSTEM. IT IS THE SOCIAL SYSTEM WHICH IS CREATING THE BAD GUYS. Bad guys are the external symptom of a deeper problem.

So what is the root cause of our systemic collapse? One answer – SEPARATION. A false sense of separation between ‘me’ and ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘them’. Separation seeds seismic catastrophe.

We have witnessed an international lurch towards pseudo-nationalism, politics of mocking and shaming, outrage, secession, economy founded on unfettered consumerism and irresponsible self-indulgence.

Our laws, governments and trade are built on an OUTDATED industrial era that promised equality, identity and dignity to all. But clearly, as we are seeing, this model isn’t working now. It worked once, creating massive industrial advance. It doubled life expectancy, promised all a sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘progress’, heralded a greater, better, free society. It ran out of steam though. Where do we stand today? 82% men and 92% women in India earn less than Rs 10,000 a month (2018 report by Azim Premji University). It isn’t a trivial statement to say that our system truly is one that keeps the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. It’s time for change. And it is within the power of this generation to eradicate poverty and create fairer systems for all.

The solution, however, does not lie in hating the authoritarians we have created. Oh yes, it’s us who have created them. This is where we return to the root cause of ‘separatist mentality’.

What if we had raised children by rewarding them for their kindness, concern and efforts to care for our society – instead of telling them they will only be respected if they are ‘richer’, ‘more clever and diplomatic’, ‘better’ than their peers?

What if we admired and respected people in society for their contribution to the collective, rather than fostering competition, drooling for individual attainment, oblivious to all else?

What if we stopped idolizing and bootlicking ‘The top 100 billionaires of the planet’, and started cherishing and emulating ‘the top 50 people who have made maximum social impact in the world’, ‘the top 100 executives who have contributed maximum to poverty eradication or housing or healthcare’, ‘the top 500 who have healed the planet’? What if we shift our world-views to prioritize collective upliftment instead of dog-eat-dog businesses, rat races and crow feasts?

What if we prioritize ‘being human’ - before being Indian, Hindu, Muslim, Christian? What if we cared more for the planet instead of industry? What if we spend more on people development than on militarization? What if corporate turnover traded-off mindless innovation and endless profit-making for social responsibility (what’s the point of expanding the economy if that economy is not reaching those who most need it!)? What if each and every one of us replace obtuse consumerism with care for our community? What if we admire ‘that woman who fights for human rights’ more than the socialite concerned with nothing more than flaunting her luxury lifestyle? What if we gave up all this superficiality for more meaningful lives?

The Roosevelt Institute revealed that ~80% of corporate profits are used by companies for share buybacks, not for employee imbursement. About 25% goes to the CEO alone. Instead of the mentality of ‘giving people employment’, like throwing grains to pigeons, what if corporate honchos came to the realization that ‘it is employees who make the company and create their business, instead of the other way round?’ What if there was transparency, no tax rebates for the elite and fairer distribution of profits?

We would see 100% poverty eradication in less than a decade.

As for politics, we need to stop putting one man or one ideology on a pedestal. Here’s the only truth:

1) Every political party makes good decisions and bad decisions. It will forever be so. No one can please all.

2) Every political figure – is ultimately human. And like all humans, he will be a mosaic of good and bad, wise and unwise. So somewhere along the way, the ‘corrupt’ politician will take a few good steps, and the ‘self-sacrificing, moral’ politician- will err. It is human nature.

3) Society clinging to one person or one party, while de-humanizing and shaming others – is the formula for downfall. Instead, what if we evaluated each policy individually for what it is, instead of hating the people behind that policy? What if we created platforms for more voices to be heard on every national decision, so the onus does not fall on one weak human being? The moment we let go of bias – either for or against a person/party – and focus on outcomes we want to create, the system will change.

Our capacity for empathy can overcome almost any fault in our systems. What if each one of us celebrated leaders who stand for empathy – with each vote? We cannot fight this Crisis of Hate, Crisis of Truth and Crisis of Health – with MORE hatred, MORE violence and MORE outrage. What if we find ways to fight these battles with COMPASSION, even for the misguided ‘elite’ holding power? What if we stopped weaponizing fear-mongering, simply put all hateful voices on mute- leaving them to fend for themselves instead of being punitive (eventually, they will make themselves obsolete) and instead start incentivizing fresh, powerful voices of inclusiveness and collective responsibility?

It would be a turning point, for sure.

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