Dr. Tharoor recently bared his heart on how he has become more careful while speaking, thanks to attacks on his “cattle class” comment that was taken wildly off context and gained a life of its own.

The “cattle class” comment came up during my conversations with some rather well educated professionals Nearly every one of them blamed Dr. Tharoor for not understanding the “Indian” context; and still living in the “British/American” paradigm. To further validate this view, I asked a few more friends, mostly liberal and traditionally Congress supporters. Most of them echoed the same view.

I was certainly taken aback – since I have heard these very folks use the term rather very freely, being frequent travelers. Many of them had also spent considerable time in the US and UK, and would definitely have an understanding of the cultural nuances that define the term in a specific context.

What was it that made them forget or ignore this? And more importantly, if we are unable to appreciate a statement being made from a specific cultural context, and unwilling to see it from that point of view, where does that leave us in the increasingly multicultural milieu?

What impression of the populace does a leader form, when faced with such truculent inflexibility?

I also remember the hoopla around George W Bush’s comment on “India eating more”. What sort of an impression that would have made (or reinforced) on the Americans, I leave it to your own conclusions.

What makes us (and the media, if one were to say that they are different from us) as a society, paranoid about fairly harmless comments, that we take pains at distorting and mangling them and then vilifying the person who said it?

These questions can keep a social scientist busy for years, but I am more worried about the possible consequences of this behavior – and list them in no particular order:

  • Leaders need to be themselves in the public domain – at least for a non-trivial duration. If there is a crowd baying for blood every time the media finds a way to twist what a leader says, we drive them into their shell – and what we will get from them will be inane statements. And, when they have to put on a mask every time they face the public, there is a danger that the mask will become that person.
  • Politics (in a democracy) and leadership are about communication -and if we keep this behavior up, debates will be either just a bunch of platitudes or a free for all blame mongering, or reduced to shouting matches that we already see on television.
  • We, as a country, are 1/6 of the world’s population. While we can be justifiably proud of our ability to elect our leaders, the world is not merely looking at the scale of our politics, but also at the quality of our society. Hysterical reactions based on distorted comments add to the impression of India being a difficult place to deal with. It adds to transaction costs, distorts business cases for investment and impacts the quality of business investments.

What do you think? Is our overreaction garnering such negative attention that it impacts our ability to prosper in the globalized economy? Does it reduce the quality of our debates and politics?

Note : This article was originally published on linkedIn

Ramesh Dorairaj

Ramesh Dorairaj is consultant, coach and an author. He has 27+ Years of Experience consulting for Fortune 500 companies worldwide. He has groomed 50+ leaders. Has participated in 2.5 Billion $ worth of successful deals.  He is a Certified Executive Coach at Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching, Certified Sales Coach and a Certified Proposal Coach.


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