Healing Space | The Great Indian Roast: Why Pan Parag matters so much to us

#bullying, #Group behaviour, #Group dynamics, Healing Space, #Humility, #mental health, #Office dynamics, Parag Agrawal, #Teasing, Twitter, teasing, mocking, memes and even insults, IIT Bombay

Illustration by Suneesh K.

Note to readers: Healing Space is a weekly series that helps you dive into your mental health and take charge of your wellbeing through practical DIY self-care methods.

The !Kung San, a hunter-gatherer tribe in the Botswanan part of the Kalahari desert, have a practice called ‘insulting the meat’. When a hunter brings in a kill, he places it in the middle of the village and begins to insult his bounty, calling it meagre and inadequate, a bag of bones, etc. If he acts proud of his kills, the tribe will insult the meat, even if it is actually good.

#bullying, #Group behaviour, #Group dynamics, Healing Space, #Humility, #mental health, #Office dynamics, Parag Agrawal, #Teasing, Twitter, teasing, mocking, memes and even insults, IIT Bombay
Canadian anthropologist Richard B. Lee, in his bestselling account of being embedded with the !Kung San people, Dobe Ju Huansi, asks a healer (the group rarely has a chieftain and maintains a non-hierarchical social order), why they perform this ritual. He replies: “When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. In this way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”

As Parag Agrawal takes over the pan global leadership of Twitter from Jack Dorsey, great hoots of teasing, mocking, memes and even insults went up across the Twitterverse.  Essentially, this is the role that a good-natured ribbing performs in the group. It becomes an assertion of identity, claims the successful person as one of ‘our’ group (which is why IIT Bombay was quick to tweet ownership of Agrawal), and also serves the function of levelling him down, reminding him not to become arrogant in his success. In extreme forms, of course, this is also the kind of ragging that can become bullying and have toxic impacts on the environment. This generally happens when the bullying goes beyond the ambit of the group’s rule book and works on the basis of other feelings: of jealousy, power, caste, class and ethnic superiority. So, unchecked teasing isn’t always a good thing, but it does emerge from a deeply-ingrained primal conditioning, of how we locate and identify with our collective community.

Representation of ‘people like us’ in positions of power become far more powerful  building blocks of identity than words alone due to their ability to invoke memory, information and feeling (D Harper, 2002). When we see that ‘people like us’ can make it to senior positions, wield power, have opportunities handed to them fairly, it assures us that bridges and connections are possible and functional between ourselves and those who do not share our identity. This also makes us more amenable towards ‘the other’. It lends cultural pride and confidence.

Representation establishes connection, but also, points out our points of disconnection.

When Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai et al make it to the top, they signify that even you and me in our first or second jobs can reach the top with hard work, no special factors are needed. When Indian women see women like Jayshree Ullal of Arista Networks, Gita Gopinath of the IMF, Soumya Swaminathan of WHO, and Anjali Sud of Vimeo, it affirms to us that we will also be given a fair chance. We react to achievers not as people but as symbols of what they represent for our social order and we assign the meanings of these symbols through our interactions.

It can also point out where we are held back by obstacles like racism, corruption, nepotism, or caste and religious identity politics. It is also the urge of the once-colonised to triumph over the coloniser, as Homi Bhabha points out in The Location of Culture. Which is why we can receive the defensive response ‘they’re taking over our jobs’. The idea of the collective triumph allows us to believe we are inverting a long-standing hierarchy.

As we get the acceptance we seek in the land of ‘the other’, whether this is women in male-dominated industries, or Indians in foreign companies, we rearrange our social cognition. Where earlier we may have tried our best not to stand out, adopting neutral accents and clothing, we become free to assert our cultural identity. We gain confidence with the teasing. It’s the collective saying, ‘don’t forget where you came from.’

#bullying, #Group behaviour, #Group dynamics, Healing Space, #Humility, #mental health, #Office dynamics, Parag Agrawal, #Teasing, Twitter, teasing, mocking, memes and even insults, IIT Bombay

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