An Interesting Response To An Intriguing Query

The Proposition and The Query
 [Excerpted, unedited from the original text ]

What interests me is the topic of 'me' vs. 'we' and there is something that we can do about this.
One thing I have noticed being in the east is 'we' is always more important than ' me' . Japanese, Koreans in particular and Chinese included are willing to work for their country, company, society ahead of individuals. Before I came to japan I used to think it's forced onto them to work late. Now I know it's not forced, it comes from their natural feeling to sacrifice personal comfort for betterment of the collective whole they belong to. Not only Japanese and Koreans, I have seen how groups of Chinese, Vietnamese, Philippinos work together as a team.

In comparison I find we Indians are very egocentric. I come across Indian professionals, most work well with other cultures but when it comes to working together with another Indian, it turns out to be a race of who is greater. Once the boss-subordinate or a senior-junior relationship is established it works ok. But if you tell them they are peers and need to work together- the difficulty is palpable. Comparison of social status, designation, size of house etc are more important than simple ability to respect each other and work together. You see this in all Indian social organizations, associations etc everywhere. Each one at the others throat for some trivial reasons. Therefore, most Indian achievements you see in history are individual achievements (exceptions excepted). We excel in individual intelligence and performance but when it comes to collective intelligence and performance, a group of Indians together is often a failure, at least in comparison to our other Asian neighbors. My Chinese colleague who worked in KBR in Singapore where huge majority of the engineers are Indian asked me this question, why one Indian can not work with another Indian when both of them so wonderfully with other cultures? Our progress is badly hampered by this inabilty to work together and there has got to be an way out. In spite of all our gods, yoga, Gita, Vedanta, meditation and love for our motherland why are we so full of individualistic ego is beyond my understanding.
Is it our education ? Our society which is overly hierarchical that working as peers creates such an unease? Education in IITs and IIMs trains some lucky lot to work as groups but many others are deprived of such environments.
Isn't there something we can do to eradicate this disease from the Indian psyche?


The Response
[Original text, unedited ]

I feel that this excerpt started with one thesis but ended with something slightly different. It starts out saying that Indians are more about me than about we, while East Asians are the other way.  It ends up saying that Indians find it difficult to work in non-hierarchical settings with other Indians, but not with non-Indians.


I think the first contention about Indians is in fact true, although I wouldn't know about East Asians.  The second one is also sort of correct, but with a lesser degree of confidence.

Let me suggest that all of this can be traced to one reason: lack of trust.  India is a country where people don't trust each other the least bit.  The laws and all governance are based on the principle that everyone is utterly dishonest and need to be restrained from wrongdoing at all times.  People believe that the government and every other institution are entirely corrupt, and businesses are apparently run on the premise that their suppliers, employees and customers are out to cheat them at all times.


As game theory and its experiments have shown, lack of trust among members of a collective will lead to excessive individualism and socially and individually sub-optimal outcomes.  This is the Prisoner's Dilemma. Loss of trust is cumulative and a collective stuck in a low value equilibrium will find it difficult to break out of it.  This means that there will be path-dependence in a collective's history and trigger events may set a downhill path that's difficult to change later. Hierarchy does not help much either, since trust must exist even in such settings for optimal outcomes to emerge. The usual suspects, foreign rule, caste society and endogamy etc. can all be blamed as historical causes I suppose.


The Oxford economist Sir Partha Dasgupta has written extensively on trust and its role in development.  His thesis is that lack of trust is  the principal determinant of the economic success of a society.

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