This week I heard Barak Obama’s speech on race and racial tensions in the US and as speeches go it is one of the best I have heard in my lifetime. Right from the first time I have heard him speak I liked Obama very much. He appeared intelligent, genuine and honest. How many politicians can fit this description? But I have always wondered about him. He may have great charisma, but can he make a good president? He has never been tested. Does he have the experience and the skill required to take hard decisions. I had no doubts about Hillary. You knew what you were getting and with Bill Clinton by her side she would be a safe bet for the world.
However this speech on race removed all my doubts. It was a very challenging situation. His spiritual mentor was being caricatured as unpatriotic and racist. A lesser man would have disowned him and distanced himself. Obama took on the challenge with grace, courage and honesty. While he denounced the statements made by his pastor he did not disown him. He explained the reason behind the anger many black people carry. He also explained why white working class people are angry; because they are required to pay the price for the discrimination they did not perpetuate. He spoke about his white grandmother and the racial prejudices she carried.
It was one of the most politically ‘incorrect’ speeches I have heard. Coming from a politician at such a crucial juncture in his career, was an act of tremendous courage. It made me think that all his speeches about rising above individual differences, about unity of spirit and intelligence of electorate were not mere words. When a challenge presented itself, he lived up to all the promise his words held. I think it is a very rare quality. More then anything we need politicians who have their heart in the right place.
Incidentally, this speech also gave me some insights into politics in India. We have had similar issues. The caste system which resulted in marginalizing large sections of the population. Independent India tried to correct these through reservations for backward castes. This is has led to so much resentment among upper caste sections of India. How does Indian politics work – each party panders to one section of the vote bank. It feeds on the hate and insecurities of the people. Elections are won and lost based on castes and not on the ability of the elected representative. I wish we had politicians like Obama in our country, who can understand both sides of the problem and have the courage to take the middle ground.
You can read the full transcript of the speech and watch the video here
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I had heard so much about this book, yet what prompted me to buy it were not all the discussions that I have heard. I bought it after I read the first chapter. It was really cool and reminiscent of Tipping Point. Maybe because it began with a discussion on the drop of crime rate in NewYork city and Tipping point also had an elaborate discussion on this subject.
When I closed the book, I could clearly pin-point how they were different. Their main difference lies in the fact that Malcolm Gladwell is a writer whereas Levitt&Dubner are economists. They are so much in love with their data, they just don’t seem to know were to stop. Especially the last chapter, where they examine the correlation between the name of an individual and how successful he is, they go overboard with the data. In the final analysis, Freakonomics comes across as more convincing (After reading both the books, I am now convinced that abortion and not ‘broken windows’ was the cause of the drop in crime rate in New York), but Tipping Point is a much more interesting read.
To me, personally the most interesting insight from the book was “What makes a perfect parent”. A study was conducted by U.S department of education called “Early Childhood Longitudinal Study”. It arrives at a correlation between child’s personal circumstances and his performance in school. Out of 16 factors that were analyzed 8 were shown to have a strong correlation and 8 did not have any correlation. You would be surprised. For example, there is strong positive correlation between how the child performed to the fact that there are lots of books in his home. However there seems to be no connection between his performance and whether his parents read to him everyday. What I found most encouraging was the fact that it did not matter if the mother was working or quit her job after child birth. As a working mother, who had to deal with the guilt of leaving my son and going to work from when he was 3 months old, I was really thrilled to learn this.
In the final analysis, the authors conclude, what you are as a parent matters more then what you do”.
Another insight from the book which I found very appealing; The fact that people are inherently honest and good. Being a compulsive believer in the goodness of mankind, I found this conclusion very heart warming. This finding was from a unique business model which an economist Paul Feldman adopted for his business (you can read the full extract from the book here). The authors say that most economists will find this surprising but not Adam Smith, one of the pioneers of contemporary economics. In his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith writes “How selfish so ever man may be supposed, there is evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it”
On that feel-good note, let me end my review.
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“Don’t tell me we are tolerant people, Archana. We can’t stand each other even in our neighboring states. We kill Tamils in Karnataka, Biharis in Assam and Punjabis in Delhi. We are so divided on the basis of caste and religion. How can we call ourselves tolerant people”. This was in conversation with two of my friends yesterday.
I was reminded again of this conversation when I was watching news this morning. There is a big caste war going on between the doctors at AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Science) and patients are suffering in the bargain. Most of the news items these days bring tears of frustration to my eyes. Where is our country heading!!!
So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the next news item which moved me to tears for a completely opposit reason. It was about a poor man called Saidul Islam. He was in big financial difficulty when he came across a newspaper advertisement seeking a kidney for a man called Shyamal Singh. Saidul decided to sell one of his kidneys for money. When he met Shyamal Sigh he discovered he was a very poor man himself. So he decided to donate his kidney for free.
He returned home and did not tell anyone about this. But once the word spread Saidul’s family was ostracized as he had given his kidney to a non-Muslim. Many even refused to believe that a man desperately in need of money had actually donated his kidney. ”When he came back, people taunted him by saying that he had sold his kidney for the sake of extra money. People used to say that he won’t live for long. I was unable to get out of the house. I used to sit at home and cry,” said Ramiza Islam, Saidul’s mother. Soon the truth emerged and the attitude of the villagers changed. His financial situation has not improved but he is looked upon as a hero now.
It was an amazing story of goodness and what touched me deeply was the reply he gave to the reporter’s question on what prompted him to do this. He said, “God does not always give opportunity to save another man’s life. When I got one, I did not want to lose it”. This, coming from a poverty stricken, uneducated man.
I was reminded of something that I wrote very long back. We are so distracted by the loud minority who come across as mean and bloodthirsty that we lose sight of the silent goodness in the majority. World is made up of so many good people. I wish we stop to notice them more.
Here is the link to the news story on NDTV
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