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Listening for Well-being : Arun Maira Talks About a Democracy in Crisis, Unsafe Social Media and More in his Latest Book

Maira asserts that we must learn to listen more deeply to 'people who are not like us' in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race.

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Arun Maira
Arun Maira (extreme left), during a public event in 2009. Wikimedia
  • Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira’s latest book is titled ‘Listening for Well-Being’
  • Maira observes that physical and verbal violence in the world and on social media is continuously growing
  • He also highlights the importance of ‘hearing each other’ in order to create truly inclusive and democratic societies

New Delhi, September 5, 2017 : Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira contends that “physical violence” in the real world and “verbal violence” on social media against people whom “we do not approve of” are increasing today. With such trends on the rise, the very idea of democracy finds itself in a crisis.

The solution?

“We need to listen more deeply to people who are not like us,” said the much-respected management consultant, talking of his latest book, “Listening for Well-Being”, and sharing his perspective on a wide range of issues that he deals with.

“Violence by people against those they dislike, for whatever reason, is increasing. It has become dangerous to post a personal view on any matter on social media. Responses are abusive. There is no respect for another’s dignity. People are also repeatedly threatened with physical violence.”

He said that gangs of trolls go after their victims viciously. “Social media has become a very violent space. Like the streets of a run-down city at night… not a safe space to roam around in.”

At the same time, streets in the physical world are becoming less safe too. “Any car or truck on the road can suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction in a ‘civilised’ country: in London, Berlin, Nice, or Barcelona,” Maira told IANS in an interview.

Maira said that with the rise of right-wing parties that are racist and anti-immigrant, there is great concern in the Western democratic world — in the US, the UK and Europe — that democracy is in a crisis.

In the US, for example, supporters of Donald Trump, Maira said, believe only what Trump says and watch only the news channels that share a similar ideology. On the other side are large numbers of US citizens who don’t believe what Trump says but they too have their own preferred news sources.

“They should listen to each other, and understand each other’s concerns. Only then can the country be inclusive. And also truly democratic — which means that everyone has an equal stake and an equal voice,” he noted.

In “Listening for Well-Being” (Rupa/Rs 500/182 Pages), Arun Maira shows his readers ways to use the power of listening. He analyses the causes for the decline in listening and proposes solutions to increase its depth in private and public discourse.

Drawing from his extensive experience as a leading strategist, he emphasises that by listening deeply, especially to people who are not like us, we can create a more inclusive, just, harmonious and sustainable world for everyone.

But it would be wrong to say that the decline in listening is only restricted to the Western world.

“We have the same issues in India too. We are a country with many diverse people. We are proud of our diversity. However, for our country to be truly democratic, all people must feel they are equal citizens.

“The need for citizens to listen to each other is much greater in India than in any other country because we are the most diverse country, and we want to be democratic. So, we must learn to listen more deeply to ‘people who are not like us’ in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race,” he maintained.

Maira also said that India is a country with a very long and rich history. And within the present boundaries of India are diverse people, with different cultures, different religions, and of different races.

“So, we cannot put too sharp a definition on who is an ‘Indian’ — the language they must speak, the religion they must follow, or the customs they must adopt. Because, then we will exclude many who do not have the same profiles, and say they are not Indians. Thus we can falsely, and dangerously, divide the country into ‘real Indians’ and those who are supposedly non-Indians. Indeed, such forces are rising in India,” he added.

Maira, 74, hoped that all his readers will appreciate that listening is essential to improve the world for everyone. He also maintained that it is not a complete solution to any of the world’s complex problems but by listening to other points of view, we can prevent conflict and also devise better solutions.

Born in Lahore, Arun Maira received his M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Physics from Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College. He has also authored two bestselling books previously, “Aeroplane While Flying: Reforming Institutions” and “Upstart in Government: Journeys of Change and Learning”. (IANS)

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The Much Needed ‘Digital Revolution’ on the Right Track

However, according to R.K. Rana, former Director General, Assam Rifles, social media has limited use for the Armed Forces

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"It's time for social media companies to get serious about their responsibility to young people," Hinds was quoted as saying by The Sun. Pixabay

For the Generation Z, it has already become a way of life – tweeting about the problems while getting a passport or writing a Facebook post about the sanitary conditions on trains and expecting a response from the concerned authorities. This was unimagianble just a few years ago.

In fact, keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of creating a digitally empowered nation, a large number of leaders, organisations, Ministries and the Armed Forces are marking their presence felt online – that too with witty quips at times.

With rapid smartphone penetration and half a billion people in the country now using Internet, millennials now feel that the much needed “digital revolution” is on the right track.

Sampada Saraf, a 24-year old Deputy Collector from Madhya Pradesh believes that digitalisation has not only made proceedings more transparent for the citizens, but has also helped authorities keep a tab on the progress of their work.

“From registration of complaints to getting a caste certificate, ration card or land disputes, has been or is in the process of being shifted ‘online’,” Saraf told IANS.

“Our official Facebook pages and Twitter accounts keep us well connected to the people we serve.”

The previous government launched the “Digital India” campaign in 2015 to ensure all of the government’s services are made electronically available.

Four years later, today, the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Textiles, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Office of the Prime Minister of India (PMO India), Ministry of Defence, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other major organisations are heavily followed on social networking platforms.

How active, witty and prompt the Indian government organisations are on social media was highlighted recently when the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) responded to a user of its official ticket booking application who complained of obscene advertisements on the app.

social media
When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods, the study added. Pixabay

The response of IRCTC, asking the user to clear his browsing history, kept trending on all social networking websites for a couple of days.

While talking to IANS, Alok Dave, retired General Manager, Modern Coach Factory, Raebareli said, “I think there is a paradigm shift in any communication with people due to technology changes and therefore everybody, whether government or private must use these methods for basic survival.”

Since digitalisation has bridged the gap between citizens and the government, a lot of information and data now reach the authorities first hand.

“Social media has eliminated the need of a middleman. People personally reach out to us with their grievances which not only keeps information clear but also helps us help them immediately,” said Sunil Dubey, Deputy Secretary, Department of Revenue, Madhya Pradesh.

Leading from the front, Modi has 47.8 million followers on Twitter where he conveys important policy decisions and 22.9 million followers on Instagram where he posts about cricket, travel destinations and pictures of him meditating in ice capped mountains, while keeping his country informed about the work he looks into.

There are also no two opinions about the fact that people now care about the digital presence of the government handles.

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Twitterati on Friday, for example, reacted sharply after the Twitter handle of the Indian Army’s Chinar Corps was suspended for unknown reason. The account was restored later.

However, according to R.K. Rana, former Director General, Assam Rifles, social media has limited use for the Armed Forces.

“The Army must make use of social media for specific purposes like instilling faith in the hearts and minds of people in terrorism infected and remote areas and in aiding civil authorities during floods, earthquakes etc.,” Rana said. (IANS)