Recently, in our Consumer Behaviour lecture, we were shown a video on the projector. It was one of those videos that fill you with passion and pride in being a part of this great nation, that makes you want to stand up against this system, that makes you want to bring about the great change that today India is in a desperate need for. Even our highly admired Professor admitted that this was one of the most inspiring videos he had ever seen. As the 3-minute clip came to an end, the high spirits and the energy in the room were palpable. It felt as if everyone who would walk out of that room at the end of the class would change the face of this country by “standing up against the system”. But what did it come down to? Zilch. Nada. Half an hour later when the lecture ended, we left the room yawning, thinking about that soft bed that awaited us in our rooms for the beautiful post lunch siesta, all the patriotism and self-actualization transiently achieved by that one moment, lost in the streets of the mundane.
We all like to believe that our one act of spiritedness can change the world, one act of selflessness will end all unfairness. But it is not so. One, and for most of the times the only change we can bring about is a change in ourselves. Not a drastic one, which is near impossible. But a gradual change in our attitudes and perceptions that can make this world a better place. I can sense clichés galore, but I have an example to explain my point.
In our b-school campus, there is a canteen which is frequented by one and all at different times of the day, depending upon how busy the schedule is for that day or more importantly, what is on the menu in the mess. There have been occasions when we do not have much time between lectures and we have to get in the queue outside the canteen cash counter to order something. This queue tends to get long, depending on the time of the day. If it’s the lunch hour, one can expect to wait in the queue for a good 5 minutes for his turn. Now I’ve noticed instances where everyone flocks the one who has reached close to the cash counter, for ordering everyone’s food. It is a common thought that paying him the money and asking him to give your order as well would save time and energy involved in standing in the queue. I feel nothing but pure repulsion at such a behavior. Why do not people realize that it is unethical and grossly wrong to do so? If someone is standing in the queue behind that person, is he a moron to wait for his turn and not jump the gun like a bunch of smart-asses like you do? Is he plain stupid to follow the order, to respect others’ exigencies and constraints? No. Let me tell you that he is way wiser than you. You – The next time you jump the line and ask some “friend” of yours to order for you as well, look into the eyes of the next person in the line, and look at the anger at the system that is reflected there, at the gross unfairness of it all. It is HE who is trying to maintain an order. And it is YOU, who gives him all the incentive to break the rules and create the chaos that the system is today – so that you can crib about it later!
Such a thing happened with me recently, when I was bombarded with requests while I was close to the counter. Three “friends” found me standing there and all their friendliness arose to give me their orders. Then some more. I ordered for five people apart from my own order. And as I turned, my own roommate, who had joined the queue behind me, was there standing silently without my knowledge. He had not felt the need to give me his order, though I could not be closer to anyone than my own roommate. And when he joined me in the queue, there were at least 9 people ahead of me. That made him the 11th in the queue – a good 8 minutes approximately. And he was scheduled for the same lecture that all of us had to attend. But he knew what small things matter.
I was a part of a similar queue the next day, when everyone started bombarding the people standing in front of us. The guy standing next to me appeared flustered, “Why are we standing in the queue? Let’s also give our orders to those in front of us!” That enraged me to such an extent that I almost shouted at him. Why is this bandwagon effect so strong? Is it peer pressure? Is it the fear of being different and being laughed upon? Or do we just look for a shortcut? If it is any of these – and I strongly fear it’s the last one – we are in for a big trouble.
It is this “chalta-hai” attitude that is destroying our identity as a nation. Go to any part of the world, and such small things are taken for granted. They are a part of life. Try jumping or pushing your way through a queue in, say, Hong Kong, and you will be stared down by one and all, leaving you ashamed of your own self. Everyone drives in their own lane in every western country, while road traffic in India is akin to a rat race. Things like “courtesy”, “respect” and “manners” hold a lot of value there, while in India they have become nothing more than mere jargons used by old men in white suits. We think these things do not matter a lot. But this is where the real change begins – with our own selves. Not littering and keeping our environment clean, not wasting any food by taking only small fillings in our plates, not just making sure we don’t leave any water tap open, but closing any tap that we find overflowing, anywhere at any time of the day, vacating our seats for elderly people while travelling in buses, addressing females with respect – these are just a few of the things where we can start by bringing about a change. But alas, we do not realize their importance. We only like to soothe our inflated egos by bursts of passionate nationalism and fervour for changing this world – bursts which have a very short life span and which die with a whimper. We should understand that rather than going gung-ho over something impracticable, it would be much better for us and for the ones around us if we start by standing at our rightful places in the queue. Can we make this small promise to ourselves? Let us spread this humble word to whoever we know – and it would then be interesting to watch what happens when the next time there is a long queue outside the canteen! For once, let us make peer pressure work in a positive way. Cheers!