A 15-Year Plan For a Better Society

By Nita Chicooree

What framework should we prepare to build a better society? Today’s column summarises a few suggestions that were put forward two weeks ago.

1. Create a responsible and healthy environment by setting up structures which show that society cares for its members. Start with youngsters first. Promote understanding by giving them basic concepts of psychology which raise awareness on their own behaviour and help them to understand that of those around them.

When? Once a year. Around 16 or 17 years old, SC or Lower Six level in all schools, technical and vocational, including every boy and girl who does not receive formal education. How? Mixed classes of boys and girls so that future office clerks, secretaries, drivers, technicians, teachers, fishermen, masons, engineers, housemaids, doctors, barmen, etc., receive the same guidance. Duration: 3 hours, a half-day workshop. Who should organize and supervise the course and discussions? Qualified adults, psychologists (not any psychologist) or others. Open questions.

2. Young adults: Repeat the experience with adults who plan to marry or live with their partners. Help them to understand male and female psychology. A three-hour workshop with adults from different social and professional categories in groups of 25 to 30.

3. Counselling and guidance to future parents on their role and responsibility. Ensure better parenting. Help them to understand the needs of young children and adolescents. How to avoid psychological damages. Insist on the ability to love and the importance of understanding and love which stabilize the brain functioning of those who are at the receiving end, develop the front part of the brain and give a sense of belonging and attachment. Children who receive maternal and paternal love develop into stable and secure adults.

4. Adults in their early 40s. Cope with mid-age crisis and increasing tension in private relationships. Help them deal with a challenging environment in the family life and at the workplace. Adopt a positive approach, redefine relationships, know and polish their own worth, sustain values, etc.

The principle of gathering different age groups from all walks of life at different stages in their life is an important factor in the running of such a project. Besides fostering interaction within a composite society, and giving the same opportunity for betterment to one and all, it will build unity by bringing up common needs and aspirations of men and women in our society.

Cultural and religious factors cannot be overlooked, and a wider participation of all parties concerned will be most enriching. No need to rush to London and Paris to find experts on every issue that requires in-depth thinking, wisdom and political will. Institutions based on modern western models does not imply that western countries hold the key to every challenge that affects our daily life. Blind mimicry of everything western leads to a fragmented, materialistic and individualistic society.

A radical approach turns out to be necessary at crucial moments in the history of a country. A profound assessment of the human, social and cultural development index, and a re-thinking of strategies will help shift public care resources in the right direction. Suggestion: sign up to a 15-year vision of improving human development to be carried on whatever be the colours of the ruling political parties. The onus is on the educated middle class to come up with suggestions and take part in activities that would uplift the country towards progress.

* * *

Rethinking society, India shows the way

Rising awareness that the world is in a churn because guiding fundamentals must be wrong prompts a Mumbai MBA university to instill a different mindset in the new generation of students, tomorrow’s elite. Attitude towards social status, wealth, finance should change, according to academics.

Middle-class comfortable homes, youth culture, week-end partying, binge drinking, sex and alcohol — the cliché of the average student is likely to change. Students are required to spend a few hours every week in the slums of Mumbai among the most underprivileged sections of society who live without electricity. Their tasks vary from helping children with homework, encouraging them on the road to progress, advising adults on hygiene to counselling them on matters of regulations, laws and job opportunities. A most enriching experience for both parties. Slum dwellers and their children feel less abandoned, appreciate inter-generational solidarity and are more eager to get out of poverty. Students discover the distressing poverty in slums, derive satisfaction from being useful to the needy and realize the importance of bridging gaps. The ultimate objective is to strengthen solidarity and unity in society.

The University aims to cultivate humility in the minds of its students. In England, criticism is levelled against the classification of universities by the Financial Times whose criteria is salary index of students 3 to 5 years after completing their course. To keep top position in the ranking, universities orientate students towards the highest paid jobs in the banking and finance sector. This system perpetuates erroneous concepts of status and values.

Mumbai University’s policy is being adopted in an increasing number of academic institutions in India. Brazil, Argentina, US (Harvard University), England and France are among several countries which have started to follow the Indian example. They contemplate teaching ethics and philosophy to students who take up Economics, Business and Finance. France’s ‘Ecole de Commerce’ is highly elitist and it will take time to get students to work amid the poorest sections of the population. Aix-en-Provence University in Marseilles is taking steps towards implementing the new policy.

Whatever be its gross imperfections, it seems quite natural that India points the way to a re-assessment of fundamentals in a world that is at a loss to cope with new challenges. If anything, instead of trickling down, wealth is seeping up a pyramid which is already so swollen with the juice – a system which will eventually collapse and give rise to a new outlook on development and progress.

* Published in print edition on 6 July 2012

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