The experiences that transformed my thinking of social development

by Roopesh Kumar | 24 October, 2017

“Do or do not, there is no try.” – Master Yoda

They say change is the only constant in life. We understand reality from our experiences, but we do not observe how these experiences structure our perception. For me, two instances in particular have changed how I perceive reality and how an awareness of the changes around me has had a profound impact on my core values.

A captivating session got over, and the array of insights we came up with were brilliant. The insights alone made me ecstatic, when Mr Behar, an eminent individual and former chief secretary of the government of Madhya Pradesh, said, “We should be very careful with the words we use.” This started a line of self-enquiry in my mind about the words I use – and how some words, although primitive, had an insurmountable effect on others. This self-inquiry created an awareness which was incomprehensible to my ‘engineer way’ of understanding.

Comprehending the idea that I was listening to my own thoughts was, in a way, scary to start with. But it was also a unique and powerful experience. It was my first conscious experience. My mind was still and the clarity that ensued was incredible. I was hooked on to replicating the experience.

The next encounter was a boomerang – a ray of light clearing the cloud of confusion I was experiencing. It was a workshop on ‘transformational leadership’ by Dr Monica Sharma. The first question she posted to us was to introduce ourselves. There was a lesson to be learned in that we should be addressing ourselves as – ‘My name is..’ rather than ‘I am..’. This is because we are more than our names – an unique individual who’s standing for their own unique values.

The next question, that seemed like a no-brainer, was probably the most difficult question to answer. She asked me, “What values do you stand for?” This seems like a simple question, but I can assure you it really isn’t. When my turn came, I stood in front of the class and said, “My name is Roopesh Kumar, and I stand for authenticity in myself and others.” When I announced it to the class, there was surge of power in me. It was similar to finding a needle in a haystack, but I was able to channel my inner-being clearly. I was able to see that I had been making critical decisions from my stand. The third question was to declare the fears that were stopping us from taking courageous action. The hesitation to take action previously was as a result of the fears overcoming my inner being. Labelling them helped me become wary the next time my fears acted up.

Between the encounters mentioned above, there were several pieces of knowledge that I received in the fields of economics, politics and law. This helped me create several lenses by which I could look into a context.

Here, I would like to share my experiences in class with my friends who act as fantastic sounding-board. One fine day, I was discussing the issue of open defecation with my friend. He quickly suggested that it is a easy problem to solve. I was curious and quite surprised to hear that he had a solution to a problem. I knew that a lot of my peers had been working on the field to find a sustainable solution to this problem for a number of years. The solution he suggested was to build toilets in every household – and in addition, also build community toilets.

When I heard about his reasoning to the problem, I was, in a way, seeing myself, as I would have had similar kinds of solutions without an understanding of the socio-economic and the socio-political fabric in society in which we are working. To this end, I explained to him how an NGO, which was trying to build toilets in Madhya Pradesh, was unsuccessful in tackling open defecation. In that village, building toilets curtailed the possibility of women building a rapport with each other. Instead of bringing about a social and cultural shift, the NGO focused all its resources on quick fixes which eventually backfired. This real-life example of his idea which an NGO tried to implement made him realise that his solution to the problem was counter-intuitive and that the problem was actually quite complex.

In another similar discussion, we were discussing the problem of increasing population. Again, the suggestions were family planning, provision of condoms, and so on. I elaborated to them that the fundamental issue of population is related to the right of women to make choices. The response to that angle was remarkable, and we had a long conversation about this.

More than helping my friends understand the importance of context, I observed that I was personally able to identify flaws in the system and why a particular thinking might not work in the context we are working in. This shift in my perspective is a result of a slow metamorphosis. This has been steady – and the process has been sustainable due to collaboration with my cohort, and more importantly, the group work that I am involved in. It has helped me work more efficiently, and the team has consistently pushed me ahead to help me be in the position I am in. The challenges we face as a group have been incredible. I have learned a lot from my group – particularly in terms of practising powerful-speaking to capture the essence of my idea and successfully communicating it to the group.

In the field of social development, the reality is that change is a painstakingly slow process. This applies to both the self as well as the society. The realisation here is that development is not just extrinsic in nature – it starts from the self and expands outward. To do this by channeling my inner being took me some time to comprehend.

The changes are visible to myself and my friends and family who are observing the shifts in my perspective. One of the insights that was shared helped me observe my evolution. It was to look up to your role models and derive universal values from them. I sincerely hope that we will perspire to be in our positions – and express ourselves brighter than a million suns.

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