Firstly, this post has no mention of ER Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love. I have simply used the the image as a feature image as it happens to be my favourite book on or about teachers, for a post, which discusses a few of my experiences as a teacher/instructor.
So just for the record, I completed my third year of teaching on 20 August 2016.
And wow, what an enriching, fulfilling three years it has been. I suppose, teaching is one of those professions where learning is guaranteed! – not only for the ones being taught, but for the teacher as well. I mean, I don’t think I have learnt as much through all the reading I do, as I have learnt while explaining those very things in class – shall that be Ethics, Leadership or the linkages between Social Psychology and Jurisprudence – each class, more unless, has been a learning experience – that has further enriched me, and through which I have tried enriching the classes that follow.
I think another very interesting thing that has happens while taking class are these sudden flash of insights one gets – the trigger of which is the seemingly ‘preposterous’ doubt that one ‘bad cookie’ asks you. And when that happens, either a teacher can dismiss the question as an absurd one, or give this pupil the benefit of doubt, and consider that such a preposterous perspective can also make sense.
I will give an example: I usually end my class on Ethics with the Verse 2:47 of the Bhagvad Gita, which goes like this:
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥
Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana,
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani
This verse, spoken by Lord Krishna to Arjuna during the battle of Kurukshetra , means, “You have the right to perform your actions, but you are not entitled to the fruits of the actions. Do not let the fruit be the purpose of your actions, and therefore you won’t be attached to not doing your duty.” (my translation). This in essence emphasizes the idea that combatants/military leaders/practitioners should hone a sense of duty irrespective of what is the outcome.
I remember this one time, when we ended, this one fellow, who had been dozing off throughout the class suddenly woke and said this, “sir, but there has to be something that one looks to, when performing an activity! How can there be no fruits!” – and I was mildly stunned – not only by an unexpectedly challenging doubt, but also because I hadn’t expected him to suddenly rise from whichever ocean of slumber he had been wading in, and ask such a question.
I let the moment pass. The class was abuzz – irritated, as we were merely 5 minutes away from recess break. One would agree, that is a very delicate time – and whoever asks a doubt at that time risks being an outcast for at least a day.
But his doubt had gotten me thinking. Does this verse simply mean, what we refer to as Nishkama Karma – or work for work’s sake? Or is there a deeper purport to it?
And then something flashed – of course there has to be ‘a result’ – else, why would one want to work – what this verse meant implied, albeit in a very subtle manner was, “love what you do so that what you do becomes its own reward” – and hence one is happy doing it. Reward is implicit!
I felt as elated as him while explaining to him something I had realized just now – the trigger to which was his very doubt.
So yes, there have been many moments like this when I learnt from my students – their doubts, queries, interest, and even disinterest (which always moves me to ask, ‘why are they disinterested? How or what can/should I do to rouse their interest? – and inevitably, I come up with a new approach to understanding something. I have to. I strongly believe that in this matter I don’t have a choice.)
And so, today, on Teachers’ Day, I thank all my students – the ones who used to doze off (and made me so much more patient over the years), to the ones who used to come armed with doubts (and enriched both of us beyond measure) – for making this profession such an enjoyable, enriching one.
Recently I had the privilege of being invited to the School of Communication and Management Studies (SCMS), Kochi for a guest lecture on the topic Practicing Ethical Leadership. I was thrilled to know that my audience would consist of students from their current flagship Post Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) course. As my research primarily has to do with the War Crime, and until now, my audiences usually consisted of the uniformed junta, this was certainly a challenging, and somewhat uniquely enriching prospect. Suffices to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I learnt as much from the students and their very erudite faculty as I shared with them whatever little I knew. A truly enriching experience. Please go through the synopsis of my talk and a few photographs.
“The workshop is divided into three sessions, each highlighting a key aspect of ethical leadership. Each session will be conducted in form of an interactive workshop – I will merely initiate the discussion, and keep injecting new ideas and thoughts,and simultaneously directing the discussion to reach our intended objective – arriving at a new perspective on or about being leaders that participants ‘arrive’ at in the course of the workshop.
Firstly, leadership is not a one day’s or one week’s or one month’s job – it’s a lifelong process of interacting meaningfully and constructively with your surroundings and yourself – and causing at least some positive change in either or both domains. If one looks deeper, this faculty of bettering oneself and one’s environment also translates to, and comes from, having a strong sense of self-discipline and self-worth. The Pullela Gopichand case study will end this first session.
The second session will draw significantly from Behavioural Economics. The second most important aspect of 21st century leadership is to recognize one’s role as key decision makers in organizations. As decision makers, one should be aware of the complexity, scope and limitations of decision making practices – are you deciding something because it is the best course of action, or because it will fetch you a good appraisal but may harm the organization in the long run? Are you a short-sighted leader who only keeps an eye on the immediate goals, or do you also have the capacity of look at the bigger picture? Are you task based, or relationship-based? The point is – leaders have to take decisions, and when one does that, there are times, they are likely to go wrong. They are likely to fail and likely to cause losses. The question that becomes important here is not that someone failed, but that that person pulled himself up. On a broader level, how would you treat a subordinate you failed, and is there a difference between a subordinate who failed and one who make frequent mistakes? The example of Dronacharya and Krishna as teachers and leaders will be discussed here. While Dronacharya will be shown as a teacher who gave his pupils everything but moral conscience (and so he failed in the end), Krishna will be illustrated as a leader who had the strongest grip not only on real-world issues like politics, war and diplomacy, but also on the intangibles like morality, dharma and the finer tenets of human behavior (and so the Pandavas triumphed in the end).
The third portion of the talk stresses on the importance of ‘character’ – or paying heed to that inner voice which often whispers into our ear when we are about to do something wrong or inappropriate. Social psychologists have repeatedly stressed how power, authority and faulty group dynamics often distort our moral orientation. Two case studies: The Mai Lai massacre of 1968 and the Enron scandal will be discussed here – to illustrate how individual flaws in character manifested as tragic circumstances, not only for those individuals, but also for a lot of others involved., stressing on the importance of character.;
The last session will cover Corporate Social Responsibility. No industry, organization or institution can exist in isolation. Each is part of an ecosystem – having varying degrees of give and take with that ecosystem. In such an environment, the importance of commitment to the community, or what is understood as Corporate Social Responsibility becomes very important. The case study pertaining drilling for oil in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest by Texaco – which merged with Chevron in 2001 – operated without concern for environment or local residents, will be discussed. The company deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams, spilled millions of gallons of crude oil, and abandoned hazardous waste in hundreds of unlined open-air pits littered throughout the region. The result was widespread devastation of the rainforest ecosystem and local indigenous communities.
The main ideas i.e. lifelong commitment to good leadership practices, sound decision making skills, and the importance of inculcating character among leaders will be revisited and summed up.