Diversity is not a threat instead it should be celebrated
June 15, 2012
World Forum for Ethics in Business at Amstelveen, Netherlands
Let’s see, are we all here now? 100%?
Do you know, our present includes the past and the future? The anxiety about the future and regret about the past are all in the present moment.
Now the challenge is how to sail through these opposing currents with the light of hope in our hand. And now this light of hope that we are holding is under a big storm. Somehow we have to save this light of hope.
I want to tell you about an incident that happened in 1999.
At the end of the last millennium, there were rumors that on the 31st December 1999, the world was going to crash. Now this was because the computers were not programmed to take up any more programs and so everything would collapse. And so, there was this fear-psychosis spread all over the world, and more so in North America.
People even started storing food in their cellars. They were buying groceries and milk powder. There was a scarcity of milk powder in Canada, can you imagine? This was because everyone went on a shopping spree, buying food and storing it in their cellars expecting a big disaster to happen.
At that time, I took a whirlwind tour of nearly 100 cities in a matter of two and a half months. In the morning I was in one place and by evening I was at another place, and my only message was to say that ‘Everything will be okay, don’t worry. Business will be as usual, please don’t worry and please do not store things in your cellars. It is not needed. ’
Everywhere the same question kept coming.
Once again, this year in the past month I toured about 20 cities in 14 countries and everywhere people have been asking, ‘What is the fate of this world on 20-12-2012. We hear there is going to be a disaster.’
I said, ‘This will only be in the American movies. The world will not come to an end. If it comes to an end, it will only be in the movies. Things will be as usual and you just carry on.’
A sense of relief comes into us when we hear that there is no longer a doomsday anywhere near. We are able to sit back and relax, and enjoy our cup of tea and watch television.
Netherlands is one of the
countries which is in the
fore-front of disaster relief.
Anywhere any disaster
happens it is Holland which
comes forward to help the
We need to take a fresh look at the state of affairs in the world. As Gandhiji said, ‘There is enough for everybody’s need but not for everybody’s greed.’ It has become a very popular saying. We need to move from greed to generosity to co-operation and to a sense of belongingness in the community.
One of the challenges that modern society is facing today is the lack of a sense of belongingness and lack of family values. Even within the family there is no sense of bonding. As a result we are facing social ills like violence, stress, stress related diseases and depression.
Do you know 30% of Europe’s population is facing depression?
Recently when I was in Japan, I came to know that 30,000 youth commit suicide every year in Japan. These statistics are alarming. Even in a country that is prosperous, where there is enough GDP and everybody has enough to eat and live comfortably, even in such a country 30,000 youth are committing suicide every year. It is alarming.
What is the reason? Where is the cause? How do we change this situation? What do we need to do? These are some of the most pressing questions that haunt us today, and it should haunt us. We are human beings, we need to connect with each other, and feel secure that when we are in trouble so many hands will come forward to help.
Once this paradigm shift happens, which was there (earlier), the situation is bound to change.
If you see in the east European countries, in the communist era, there was a sense of community feeling amongst the people. They may have had little food or little to survive but there was a feeling of togetherness. People would come and help each other.
In a competitive business world these values are eroding, we need to get back to these values.
We can say they have already eroded, and we need to get back to that sense of belongingness.
Even within a company setup how many people connect to each other? Or do we just come to work as mechanical entities, like machines and go back, without having a sense of connectedness?
Spirituality can induce this missing aspect, this missing link in the chain of connectivity, and belongingness. It can nurture the passion, togetherness, hope and confidence to face the challenges that we are facing today.
See, the world has gone through bigger turmoil than what we have envisaged now – World War I, World War II were bigger turmoils.
And today the bleak economic future of Europe or anywhere else in the world is not as challenging as it was when there was war, certainly not. So we need to give that confidence to people that they will be fine. We need to spread this message, ‘Hey, you will be fine. Come on, let us walk together.’
Here you will find there are two things we need to do.
There are countries that expect others to help them, others to provide for them and they find it their right to receive. This is a big challenge, a big problem.
There is a small story of Mullah Nasruddin . Mullah Nasruddin was a wise foolish man, who was a farmer. Mullah lived in a town where there was severe drought and for nearly six years there was not much rain. So Mullah Nasruddin kept complaining about this and he got used to complaining. He used to complain and complain. Finally, in that particular year it rained well and the crop harvest was very good, but even then Mullah had a long face and he still kept complaining.
So his friends asked him, ‘Mullah, this year you have nothing to complain about, because you have abundance, the harvest was very good’.
But Mullah was still complaining, he said, ‘Now there is too much work for me. I am not used to working so hard for the last six years. This year I have to work and I am not able to work.’
When there is no work, you feel that someone will provide for you; and when there is something you can do, then also you feel that it is a big burden.
Similar situation happened in Ethiopia, if you remember. For seven long years there was drought and Ethiopia received aid from the international community. But in the seventh year when there was enough there, people thought that it is their right to receive aid and they wouldn’t go for work. This is a challenge.
This is where we need to educate people. A paradigm shift should happen. The countries which are expecting others to support them, and the communities which benefit from others, they should be motivated to stand on their own feet and be self-reliant. And the other countries which are coming forward to help, they should anyway help. Not because it would benefit them, but because it is human to extend a helping hand. So it is a two way approach.
The poor need be infused with self-confidence and this is what spirituality does.
Again going back to the year 1999, that is the year I had invited around 500 youths from around Bangalore to our Ashram. All of them were unemployed youths. I also invited the Small Scale Industries Minister and the Director of Small Scale Industries, and requested them to present to youth all the schemes that the government had introduced at that time.
The government had about 280 different schemes for which the government would provide some infrastructural help and even some initial capital. The people would only have to take up those projects.
So we had 500 youths, and 280 projects were presented to them.
Do you know then what happened? The youths came up with all kinds of reasoning on how none of these projects could work. You mention one project and they would say, ‘no this won’t work, this cannot happen.
So finally when they were asked, ‘What is that you want?’ They said, ‘Get us a government job. We want to be a policeman, or bus-driver or conductor, give us any government job.’
I said, ‘Okay, I will do something about this tomorrow.’
The next day I put them through a course that I called ‘The Youth Leadership Trainng Programme (YLTP) ’ for one month. In that one month time, the way we tuned and trained them, we made them realize where they were going wrong and made a huge shift. Each and every one of those youths have become entrepreneurs today, and each one of them are providing employment to around 300 to 500 people under them.
It is so thrilling to see such a transformation in people. Just by changing their mind set and their attitude, they became entrepreneurs, and stood up on their feet and became self-reliant and did something.
We have started this program throughout India, and also in Africa and in South America. It is really rewarding.
So we all here need to take this responsibility of creating an awareness in people; an awareness not of disaster or doomsday, but an awareness of our own capabilities, of the dormant potential inside every human being.
Every challenge or every crisis is an opportunity. The paradigm shift is to make these challenges turn into opportunities for a better world and a global family. See the whole world as one human family and see what is the best that we can do.
One last thing that I would like to mention here – we all need to realize that we are not going to be here forever. We are here for a short period of time. Whatever that is, 80 to 90 years or 100 years or 110 years at the most, let us make the best use of this time and do the best for the coming generations.
By the way, my teacher who worked with Mahatma Gandhi is still alive and he is 116 years old.
So for the short time we are here, let us bring hope, reduce tension and distress. Let us bring those people together who are spending a lot of time, money and energy on mindless conflicts. Let us make a better world.
Don’t you think so? What do you say? Can we all join together with such a vision?
A stress free and violence free society, a disease free body, confusion free mind, inhibition free intellect, trauma free memory and sorrow free soul. Can we do this?
We first need to have a vision – creating a society which is united, which has a sense of belongingness and a society in which people care for each other.
We tend to take certain things for granted. We think, ‘Yes, it is in my nature anyway, I do care for others.’ But that is not enough, it has to flow in action.
By the way, I want to congratulate the Netherlanders, because Netherlands is one of the countries which is in the fore-front of disaster relief.
Any where any disaster happens it is Holland which comes forward to help the society. This is very much inherent in the society and culture in Netherlands. Whether it is Tsunami or earthquake anywhere, you will find aid from Netherlands reaching there. KLM goes there with all the aid.
Our volunteers are already there. Art of living is anyways there and they always work with several NGOs and several governments, and KLM is bringing from Holland its goodwill, compassion and service whenever there is a disaster.
Business cannot become
impersonal. The human touch
needs to be there, but at
the same time we should not
do business emotionally. We
must be very clear about this.
I think Holland should also take another step and prevent a disaster. Prevent any mistrust and widening gap between communities. Here again I would say that one of the challenges that Holland faces is the widening gap between the mainstream and migrant community. I would request the migrant community to integrate themselves with the culture and ethics of Holland, and not to be afraid that they would lose their roots. You can maintain your roots but broaden your vision, broaden your attitude and assimilate yourself to the place that you are in.
For the mainstream community, I would ask them not to be scared of diversity. Diversity is not a threat, instead it should be celebrated. Assimilation and recognition of diversity, and cooperation with them can bring much more harmony to a society which has been harmonious for ages here. These are the things I would like to see happen here.
I am a great admirer and promoter of multi-culturalism and multi-religious and multi-cultural festivals. We need to have more and more of such festivals in every area and every location which brings an opportunity for people to interact, mix and know each other.
Earlier this year we had a program in Germany at Bad Antogast. We brought a group of Israelis and a group of Palestinian women together. Both the groups came and we put them in one house. We brought them to Germany separately and we put them in one house. You should have seen the fire-crackers and bombshells that happened on the first day. But they could not escape and so they stayed there.
Our facilitators and our teachers were present there as well. At first these women vented out and expressed their displeasure and anger. But once the steam was let out then they started getting closer to each other. They started appreciating one another and they started becoming very good friends.
This was covered by the media extensively in that area.
What I am saying is that we need to undertake certain bold steps of bringing people from completely opposite view points on the table and encourage them to interact and have fun.
Q: At the dinner table at home, we all sit with our children and teach them good things. But when it comes to business, actions of greediness and selfishness are explained away so easily with phrases like, ‘It is only business, don’t take it personally.’ How do we explain this contradiction? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Business is formal and family is informal, but business cannot become impersonal. The human touch, the personal touch needs to be there, but at the same time we should not do business emotionally; we must be very clear about this.
Business should be done with your head, and life should be lived with your heart, i.e., relationship should be with the heart. If you do it the other way around, both will be in a mess. But again, that does not mean that you be ruthless in your business. You have to listen to your conscience, that is very important.
Q: Does ethical awareness come from the heart or the mind? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Ethics is a combination of heart and mind. It bridges both.
Q: So one can do business with the heart also, partially? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Partially yes but not emotionally. There should be a little tinge of humanness, and emotions too in it.
Ethics is the bridge, the combination of what your heart says and what your head thinks is right.
Q: Is there more moral ambivalence today? Has the definition of right and wrong become fuzzier? Is that part of the problem? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Right and wrong is always relative. That which gives you long term benefit, maybe with a short term loss is good. And that which gives you short term benefit but long term loss is not good. That could be a criteria.
If you want a simplified criteria between right and wrong – That which brings you pain in the short term and happiness in the long term is good; and that which brings you happiness in the short term but pain in the long term is not good.
You may become a billionaire overnight, but if for rest of the life you have to count the bars in a jail then that is not the right thing.
Q: How can I as a leader awaken the sparkle in the youth? The youth you were talking about that want a government job, I face a lot of people like that, and I am looking for the button to awaken them. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: If you can put them together in some place for eight days, I can exchange with you all the tricks that have worked and that will work for them too. I can send one of our teachers and they can share with you how you can bring about the transformation. It would need at least eight days, few hours each day.
Q: I work in the Business Industry and I see a lot of competition in the industry and lot of companies struggling with each other to get market share to improve their bottom line; and I see at the end of the day that a lot of stress and malpractices basically originating from the concept of corruption.
So I would like to know your thoughts on corruption and how to deal with it at different levels.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I have been the founding member of India Against Corruption (IAC), and in Russia also we have formed an association against corruption.
Corruption begins where the sense of belongingness ends. Again when the spiritual quotient finishes that is exactly where corruption begins its field. Nobody will be corrupt or take bribe from someone who they feel belongs to them. An officer who is sitting in an office will not ask for bribe from his kith or kin, or his own friends. He starts asking for bribe from those whom he thinks he has nothing to do with. So we need to create the sense of belongingness and for that the spiritual awakening in people is necessary – education!
Secondly, competition is not bad but unethical competition will not be sustainable. This is essential.
There is an ancient thought that says that a business can use as much ‘lies’ as there is salt in food.
‘Lies’ may be a little too strong a word, but it basically means that a business man can say that his product is the best in the world, knowing fully well that it may not be the best. This much is allowed, and can still be considered ethical – claiming your thing as the best although you may know that it is the second or third best.
If you say, ‘I have this product, but I am not sure that this is the best, maybe there are other better products’, then you will not be a good salesperson. So that little skill in action is allowed, but the skill should only be as much as tolerable levels of salt in food.
If there is too much salt you can’t eat the food, and if there is no salt also, it is not palatable. This is an ancient thought from the Vedic times.
But the same is not allowed for a social worker or intellectual, or even a king; only for businessmen a little bit is allowed.
Anxiety kills people more than the situation itself. Death will come when it has to come, but the fear of death is more disturbing, it takes away the peace. In the same way, the fear of poverty kills people more than poverty itself.
Q: With your enormous influence around the world, I see that you are doing fantastic work at leadership levels with youth and business leaders, but for an old business bandicoot like me, I listen to your inspiring speech but go back to my bad old ways when I go out of this room. Could we bring your influence in bringing the absolute moral teaching at the school level throughout India and throughout the world? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Just before coming here, I had a Skype call with about 2000 youth who had gathered in Bangalore Ashram, and had been there for a whole week. The amount of enthusiasm in them was incredible.
I am creating lots of teachers all over the planet. For example in Argentina we have a huge base. You might have read in the newspapers last fortnight how night clubs are getting transformed and youth are going to night clubs with no alcohol, no drugs, no smoking, but instead they have soft drinks, they dance, they sing their heart-out and feel very ecstatic. This is happening in the night clubs of Argentina.
Even in New York they have started what is called the Yoga Rave Party. People come and do Yoga and meditate and become quiet.
Can you imagine thousands of youth in a night club sitting quiet with their eyes closed and being happy? Not throwing bottles on each others face? This transformation is happening. But I would definitely like it to happen at a much faster pace. There are volunteers everywhere. I would like to give all the credit to the volunteers who have been working day and night. They found the joy within themselves, and they wanted to bring that to others and that was the biggest motivating factor.