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Changing Values

A few years ago I asked a friend, then a Partner in a global consulting company, as to the criteria they adopted in selecting candidates to join them. Amongst other things, he explained, they looked keenly for strong middle-class values. I have often wondered what these values are and how they are acquired. Are they formed from experiences gained in everyday life or are they driven into our thinking by our parents and teachers? Integrity, commitment, hard work, dedication, perhaps even resilience – qualities embedded in individuals by virtue of their upbringing and family background. Interestingly, many leaders of several corporations in India born in the late fifties, sixties and early seventies, would slot seamlessly into having these value systems, supported by fine education and encouraging parents. But things now seem to be changing. Increased wealth and pampering parents, determined to provide to their children what they themselves may have been denied. Kids these days have a lot more latitude than a generation ago. They have freedom that crosses boundaries towards indiscipline and extravagance. Conspicuous consumption is no longer considered to be in poor taste.

Middleclass values are possibly acquired by simple things such as those that we once saw at home and elsewhere, amongst our peers, at school and on the playing fields. Many are concerned with simple things where a ‘treat’ comprised of a bottle of coca cola and a packet of crisps at the school tuck-shop. Where pocket money rarely exceeded Rs 20 a month for movies and candy, and the allowance at college was no more than a few hundred which paid for mess bills, books, sports and gambling debts. This would last no more than fifteen days and the rest of the month would be spent waiting for the next postal order to pop-in the mail.

Things were so different those days. We drank water from school taps, not from a bottle; played for hours in the sun without being concerned about ultraviolet rays which never seemed to affect us; raced bicycles and used them as the sole means of getting from one place to another – without the luxury of cars; constructed an endless game with five pebbles, with a ball we would run crazy for hours; caught guppies in monsoon ponds and even swam in them; shared a soft drink with a few friends; ate oily and very sweet food without putting on weight because we were always outside. In the summer holidays we would play all day, leave home in the morning and return only when the street lights came on and as there were no phones, no one was able to reach us. We did not have play stations, X boxes and computers, we had friends and we went outside and found them in person. We fell out of trees and broke bones and then did it again. We walked over to see friends or simply yelled for them. Curfew was usually 10 PM on weekends and 9 PM was bedtime during school days. Holidays would frequently involve visiting grandparents. The first time we went abroad was when we enrolled on a Masters Programme at a university overseas or took up a job.

Yet this generation (born in the late fifties, sixties and early seventies) produced some of the best risk takers, inventors and problem solvers. These are the very people that run the largest corporations, ones that they have themselves created or ones that employ them because they can run them well.

Things are radically different today. Kids in metropolitan India go out in cars and play on X boxes. They relate to friends on computer screens and in late nights of drinking sessions. They have cars, expensive gadgets and almost anything they want. Meeting friends is usually concerned with hanging out at shopping malls or bars and rarely on playing fields or at sports. Things have come too easily for them and they do not realise the value of money or the effort of their parents in providing for them. Society seems to be losing the middle-class touch which it held so dear only a generation ago. Personal ambition easily supersedes the collective good.

I have often wondered where in India do middle-class values still exist, as they continue provide the backbone of recruitments amongst a number of corporations where they are still considered essential. Perhaps in some of the smaller cities, perhaps amongst the armed forces. Kids from these areas usually make the cut in the finer engineering colleges and other professional courses offered by the better universities. Could that imply that commitment is often in direct correlation to value systems? Kids are prepared to work hard, if they have had it tough? If so, then a certain amount of regimentation and discipline must be good.

Comments

Pranav said…
I think more than discipline and regimentation, parents need to introspect. they need to give up their ostentatious behaviour. It probably springs from the fact that their generation has earned much more than their parents, and they want to catch up. Handling new found money is never easy..

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