Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Simplicity is our strength

Oxford in the 20's was the Mecca of knowledge. When Dr. Frank Buchman began his work there many intellectuals found their conscience getting stung by his plain moral challenge. They would use great theories to justify their compromised behavior. He would say, "MRA is so simple that even intellectuals can understand it!" Mark Twain wrote, "What troubles me most were not the parts of the Bible that I did not understand, but the parts I did!"

Recently some of us were invited by Bongaigaon Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. to conduct in-house training programme for their employees. This was in response to a letter written to them by N. Vittal, till recently India's Central Vigilance Commissioner, following his visit to Asia Plateau. We conducted six one-day programmes; each attended by around fifty, half of whom were executives while the rest were staff members. Though I had participated in some in-house programmes for Public Sector Undertakings in the past, this was the first time I was involved in such a large-scale programme for a PSU.

In the beginning we were a little apprehensive. How would these PSU employees, complacent in their cosy jobs and assured of lifetime employment, respond? Will they listen? Will they write us off? Can we be effective without the support of ambience of Asia Plateau? Will our stories be found relevant in Assam's hinterland? However, our message was received with much openness driving home once again its intrinsic strength.

Sometimes we may think that we are swimming against the current, people do not really care for ethics or spirituality. Fortunately this does not seem to be the case. There is genuine receptivity for what IC has to offer.

Couple of months before this visit to Assam I was at a meeting at AP where a former Cabinet Secretary listened with the rapt attention as one by one young students shared their simple experiences of personal change - returning goods stolen from a government shop, apologising to the room-mate belonging to a different religion for bitterness, struggling to forgive a father for having married for the second time or being honest about cheating in the examinations. All the youngsters were re-discovering themselves, were finding a new direction in their personal life and making a difference in their own spheres of influence.

What touches people most about our message is this simplicity and humility of our personal sharing. Jargonised theories or professional PowerPoint presentations is something that they can get from many other sources. The big names, the people with much power or prestige or position is also something that is available elsewhere. There are many excellent trainers who can impart technical inputs better than we ever could. Discussions about so called great issues facing the world are also not rare in these days of abundant seminars. These are not the areas where our distinguishing contribution lies.

Says the Bhagavad-Gita, "Swadharme nidhanam shreyah, paradharmo bhayavaha." (Dying in one's own religion is better, the other religion would be dangerous.) (The word religion in Hindu context is one's ordained way of life.) For some of us who have been with IC for many years it is sometimes tempting to undervalue our core message. But for the outside world it is the most striking part of our programmes. We should not ever overlook this aspect of our work because as Bible says, if the salt loses its saltiness wherefrom shall it be salted?

If we speak from the depth of our personal experiences and without exaggeration, with conviction but without arrogance of goodness, people do listen. The world needs what we have to offer. And as we learn to be more effective in dealing with the intimate, we shall also be making our best possible contribution in dealing with the global issues.