Tuesday, 28 January 2014

When helplessness becomes a learned behavior

Nearly everyone is stunned by the performance of AAP in Delhi and have the same question "wow, how they pulled off?". Lets try to find out what was the secret recipe for success of AAP? And what is the thing that has brought a common man to the so called Janta Darbar.
Lets start from a small conversation:

Two men travelling in a bus:
Man1: Few days ago, I went to get my son's driver license. And we just end up going to the division of motor vehicles repeatedly.
Man2: Oh, yes. You are right. This torture due to corruption sucks. We need to get rid of it.
Man1: But what else can we do apart from watching. The law and order is also pathetic here. Its hard to get out of it once you are there. 
Man2: Hmm. Lets just wait for some miracle or believe in some God to who can free us.

The above conversation shows the situation of "learned helplessness". According to psychologists learned helplessness is where people who have been put in a prolonged situation where they are unable to get results from their actions, give up trying, and thereafter, helplessness becomes a learned behavior. This behavior can be better illustrated from the scenario before independence. Initially the people were helpless and low in confidence having a prejudice that we shall never be able to compete and fight back with these inevitable British Sarkar. But once the wave of independence get into the nerves of the Indians, it was able to completely destroy the British kingdom, the path may be full of barriers but they succeed because they were determined to, because they had begun the journey from helplessness to empowerment. And this journey is one-way street, one cannot go back to feeling helpless or powerless even if they wish to. The contribution of leaders cannot be denied as they helped to remove the barriers of caste, creed, gender and brought whole India into one thread.

This scenario can be compared to the present day where a common man is fighting back to corruption which currently seems to be inevitable. But like any typical problem, it too have a solution. What we can see at the present time is the requirement of change. But what type of change? Experts in change management talk of two ways that you can make change happen. 1. By putting in place "drivers" that create a force towards the desired future state or 2. By removing the "hurdles" or barriers that prevent a system from moving to the desired future state. Its often easier to change a system by removing "barriers" rather than putting "drivers". As we could see who doesn't want a corruption free country(except few who are making profit out of it). But despite the desire of a majority of Indians for a corruption free country, there was a sense of helplessness or powerlessness, a belief that it's the way it is and nothing going to stop it and nothing can change it. Here the desire of people is the "driving" force to change, but the belief became a key barrier to this change. It is critical to remove this barrier to allow the system to change. Large section of Indians had succumbed to the phenomenon of learned helplessness and felt powerless to change the state of affairs regarding corruption in the country. Here comes the role of AAP. The main task was to undo this sense of helplessness and make people feel empowered to rise up and fight for their cause. Many key messages of the party were focused on this task only.

First of all, the name of the party created this sense of empowerment. It gives the sense of ownership of party to whomsoever wear the cap. Essentially, the topi became the crown that made them feel like the king of the party.

The first message on their website also their slogan or "mantra" is "A corruption free India is not our request, but our demand and obsession". This clarity and firmness of the purpose has brought people into confidence.
 Other messages of the party were also built on this feeling of empowerment. "the aam aadmi will be selected as a candidate", "the aam aadmi will got to the parliament and clean corruption", "the aam aadmi has won from this constituency and will live not as a minister but as an aam aadmi rejecting all the VIP culture". These messages give people a sense of being heard. The voice of aam aadmi has been irreverent in the past several decades resulting in increasing number of troubles. Politics became a business of votes to win elections and then putting the very people, their views, their priorities into a corner making their lives difficult.

The unique thing about the campaign of AAP was its door-to-door campaign that brought the feeling of being heard and empowered. Mohalla sabha of AAP to create Assembly manifestos was another good illustration. A great lesson that could be learnt from AAP is the real meaning of empowerment. Lets wait for the upcoming miracles to happen while being honest on our part.

On a common man's end what he can do to fight along in this battle is to follow the mool mantra-"We should not accept a favor, which is not our right". Moreover, a strong belief of being woken up will make the fight complete.
Once empowered, the people cannot go back to feeling helpless or powerless. The people of India have woken up; they feel empowered and will not settle for less any more. They will demand clean candidates, they will demand transparent political funding, and they will demand that money be spent on the needs of the aam aadmi. They will insist on their voice being heard and participating in the political process. 

Hail to the power of the people in the world’s largest democracy!

Changing the rules of game

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