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Right Brain Attributes and Skills for a Good Society

What is a good society? It is “what we strive for and we aim to build it around core values: Equality, Democracy and Sustainability”. It is a framework for inclusive society that enables us to evaluate political and economic ideas and actions against these core values (Compass, Undated). The blossoming of this framework depends on the blossoming of more and more right brained people. In this connection, there are some fascinating findings from educational research with students, parents and business leaders in a multicultural context such as in America, which also apply to the multicultural context like in India. This concerns how to lead individual lives and contribute to society and thereby succeed in the 21st century. It is found that the right brainers are taking over the present economy and society (Covey, 2008). These are the guys who “possess above average creativity, strong analytical skills, a knack for foresight, and—surprise, surprise—good people skills…They are inventors, the designers, the listeners, the big-picture thinkers, the meaning makers, and the pattern recognisers—those who know how to optimize and creatively maneuver the facts, not just memorise or regurgitate them. All this they do while knowing how to effectively team with others.”

To put it differently, educating oneself now requires not just competency in core subjects traditionally taught such as math, science, reading, writing, history, geography, health, arts and language in conjunction with 21st century themes like financial management, global awareness, economics, entrepreneurship and civic awareness. What are more importantly required are (a) Life and Career Skills (leadership, ethics, accountability, adaptability, self-direction, personal responsibility and productivity, social sensitivity and responsibility, people skills, initiative, and cross-cultural communication and other skills); (b) Learning and Innovation Skills (critical thinking, problem solving, communication, creativity, collaboration); and (c) Technology Skills (computer literacy, media awareness and information management).

It is thus concluded that what matters in the final analysis for today’s young people (students) are not just technical and intellectual skills but personal competence (self-awareness, self-assessment, self-confidence, self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative, optimism) and social competence (empathy, organizational awareness, service, inspirational leadership, developing others, creating change, conflict management, building bonds, team work, synergy and collaboration). In the eyes of sociologists and anthropologists, much of the above social competence boils down to acquiring the soft skill of cultural competence for inclusive community building, which is undoubtedly the best social work to do now. They single out culture as a very strong part of people’s lives as it influences their views, their values, their humour, their hopes, their loyalties and their worries and fears. They define culture as what permeates a group which shares common experiences that shape the way its members understand and want to change the world. Cultural group formation can be on the basis of race or ethnic heritage, national origin, gender, class, caste, religion, language, sexual orientation, etc.

Sociologists and anthropologists see the reality as diverse in terms of a rainbow of people, not homogeneous people as mainstream economists tend to assume out of thin air. And they see increasing cultural diversity in the world. And there is also increasing diversity within each group resulting in sub-groups based on different philosophies and world views, economic status, political affiliation, regional origins, ancestry, what constitutes “better communities” or “a better quality of life”, and so on and so forth (Kansas University, Undated). Ideally, cultural diversity ought to be valued as a rich resource of alternative ideas for how to do things, an opportunity to contact people from different backgrounds, as the aid in strategizing quick response to environmental change and a source for hope and success in managing our interdependent work and survival.

But unfortunately, this has never been the case. The biggest problem of having many groups and subgroups in society is the war of the parts against the whole. “Separately they do not have the power to resolve a problem, but because they are all tied together, one part can hold up the others for ransom—everything can be frozen if one group’s efforts are focused on thwarting another’s.” There are increasing social conflicts between groups and within groups perpetuated by ignorance and intolerance, discrimination, oppression and a history of fear and animosity. Discrimination is a failure to treat all people as of equal worth and to acknowledge their full humanity. And oppression is discrimination gone mad, leading to physical and psychological brutality and even occasional genocide. This is not all. When people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize (i.e. believe and make part of their self-image—their internal view of themselves) the misinformation and stereotypes that society (via the dominant cultures and their insensitivity) communicates to them about their groups and subgroups and other groups and subgroups.

This internalized oppression holds people back, by undermining their confidence and by making it difficult for them to work together and fight against inequity and injustice. Anger based on conflicts on the above basis diverts the attention of people away from the systemic problems as the root causes of their anger, systemic failures such as biases and inequalities in government, economic and other social systems that are strongly entrenched. In this milieu, cultural competence integral to inclusive social competence requires developing attributes and capabilities to understand one’s culture, establish relationships with people from cultures different from one’s own, act as an ally against discrimination and oppression, create organisations in which diverse groups can work together, overcome internalized oppression, and build strong and diverse communities with a vision of a fair, equitable, moral, more democratic and harmonious society. Is it possible to teach young people to be proud of who they are and of their background and culture? Equally important, is it possible to teach them the value of setting and working toward goals, and of not getting discouraged when things do not go their way? “People who have internalized discrimination and oppression may quit when faced with difficult circumstances, seeing themselves as incapable of overcoming setbacks.

If children grow up with self-respect and with the understanding that occasional setbacks are a normal part of life, to be overcome by planning and hard work, they will keep moving forward in both good times and bad.” How to be allies to people from diverse backgrounds and oppressed groups? This requires familiarizing oneself with the history of one’s own cultural group, often generations back as this can influence the way one sees other groups. We should also learn something about other groups, their history, beliefs, strengths or how their people have been discriminated and oppressed. How to do cross-cultural communication without carrying myths and misinformation about people? How to promote the leadership of people in groups that traditionally do not take leadership positions? How to help bring isolated or marginalized groups into the center of activity? How to facilitate different groups find common ground? How does inclusive leadership emerge to promote meaningful and effective multicultural collaboration in apparently hopeless situations? These are all daunting questions for which answers are not easy to find (Kansas University, Undated). But the central point that has emerged in recent times is that the more the right brainers, the more the positive possibilities in this regard.

If children grow up with self-respect and with the understanding that occasional setbacks are a normal part of life, to be overcome by planning and hard work, they will keep moving forward in both good times and bad.” How to be allies to people from diverse backgrounds and oppressed groups? This requires familiarizing oneself with the history of one’s own cultural group, often generations back as this can influence the way one sees other groups. We should also learn something about other groups, their history, beliefs, strengths or how their people have been discriminated and oppressed. How to do cross-cultural communication without carrying myths and misinformation about people? How to promote the leadership of people in groups that traditionally do not take leadership positions? How to help bring isolated or marginalized groups into the center of activity? How to facilitate different groups find common ground? How does inclusive leadership emerge to promote meaningful and effective multicultural collaboration in apparently hopeless situations? These are all daunting questions for which answers are not easy to find (Kansas University, Undated). But the central point that has emerged in recent times is that the more the right brainers, the more the positive possibilities in this regard.

To conclude, following the lead given by Covey (2008), we may say that today’s young people (students) require not just left brain based education but more of right brain based education that meets four of their basic needs as follows and thereby creates peace of not only personal but also social mind: (a) physical (safety, good health, food, exercise, shelter and hygiene); (b) social-emotional (acceptance, kindness, friendship, the desire to love and to be loved); (c) mental (intellectual growth, creativity, and stimulating challenges); and (d) spiritual (contribution, meaning and uniqueness). But the 100 million dollar question concerns how they will get such education, especially with the attributes and skills of the right brain. Most formal educational institutions have miserably failed even with regard to left brain based educational provisioning as in India even as the students at the undergraduate level all over the world have more than amply demonstrated themselves to be academically adrift (see Arum and Roksa, 2011). It is the innovative informal educational imparting by organisations such as the FranklinCovey Co., the Landmark Forum, the Art of Living Foundation and the like which have contributed to the germination and accumulation of the right brain attributes and skills for the personal and social rejuvenation of the rainbow of people.

It may be noted that happiness coaching based on Positive Psychology 1504 course by Tal Ben-Shahar to which the Harvard University students had oversubscribed and the happiness coaching in India on the lines elaborated by Batliwala and Ghodke (2018) are a few quintessential examples of how personal competence in terms of everyday well-being is taught to students, to be followed by various other courses on how to deal with social and ecological concerns. The recent rise of the multidisciplinary ideas of inclusive development policy and practice based on the ideas of ‘inclusive politics’, ‘inclusive economics’, ‘compassionate economics’, ‘feminized economics’, ‘socially and ecologically sustainable economics’, ‘common good economics’, ‘jubilee economics’, ‘moral economics’ and the like as against the insipid mainstream economics accused as being left brain determined and devoted to serving the interests of the minority of the rich, can be taken as the effect of right brain attributes and skills embodied in people on thinking about modifying socio-economic policies for the sake of the welfare of the vast majority of people (Bose, 2018; Weeks, 2014). All these developments augur well for the evolution against the entropy of humankind on planet earth.

In the field of economics, these right brain based sense and sensibilities are well reflected, for example, in the writings of Naidu et al. (2019a and b) that have emerged out of the special project “Democracy’s Promise”. The viewpoints of these and other like-minded economists, which are now beginning to permeate the econ researching, teaching and advisory mill, run like this. Inclusive prosperity is the policy framework of these inclusive economists, constructed out of the core values of a good society as mentioned above. They argue that neoliberalism or market fetishism “is not the consistent application of modern economics, but its primitive, simplistic perversion.” There is no gainsaying the fact that deregulation, financialisation, dismantling of the welfare state, de-institutionalisation of labour markets, reduction in corporate and progressive taxation, and the pursuit of hyper-globalisation—all culprits behind astonishingly rising inequalities of income and wealth and opportunities—“all seem to be rooted in conventional economic doctrines. The discipline’s focus on markets and incentives, methodological individualism, and mathematical formalism all seem to stand in the way of meaningful, larger-scale economic and social reform”. In short, neoliberalism appears to be just another name for economics and little wonder that as a result many people view the discipline of economics with outright disgust and hostility.

But this storyline misses on the great economics research that is more applied and empirical, that has occurred since the 1990s, which has indeed acted as a disciplining device against ideological prescriptions. “Recent empirical findings, for example, have found that international trade produces large adverse effects on some local communities; minimum wages do not reduce employment; and financial liberalization produces crises rather than faster economic growth. Moreover, economists have “reached out to other disciplines and have incorporated many of their insights. Economic history is experiencing a revival, behavioural economics has put homo economicus on the defensive, and the study of culture has become mainstream. At the center of the discipline, distributional considerations are making a comeback. And economists have been playing an important role in studying the growing concentration of wealth, the costs of climate change, the concentration of important markets, the stagnation of income of the working class, and the changing patterns in social mobility.”

Contemporary mainstream economics is, thus “finally breaking free from its market fetishism, offering plenty of tools we can use to make society more inclusive.” The rising confidence of the inclusive economists, on this basis, that economics can serve inclusive prosperity, is a terrific good news for current students of economics—especially those who have been bothered about its classroom disconnect with real world—to pursue the subject with heightened motivation and zeal in order to produce even more relevant and imaginative policy ideas for building a good society.

By: Annavajhula J.C. Bose
Department of Economics, SRCC.

References

Arum, Richard and Roksa, Josipa. 2011. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning in College Campuses. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

Batliwala, Khurshed and Ghodke, Dinesh. 2018. Happiness Express. Westlands Publications Private Limited.

Bose, Annavajhula J.C. 2018. Moral Failure in Economics: Journey Toward Feminizing Alternatives?, in Management Today. Vol.8. No.2. April-June.

Compass. Undated. Together for a Good Scoeity. https://www.compassonline.org.uk/ideas/good-society/

Covey, Stephen R. 2008. The Leader in Me. Free Press. New York.

Kansas University (Undated). https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/culture/cultural-competence/culture-and-diversity/main, Community Tool Box, Center for Community Health and Development, The University of Kansas, USA.

Naidu, Suresh et al. 2019a. Economics after Neoliberalism. Boston Review. February 15.

Naidu, Suresh et al. 2019b. Economics for Inclusive Prosperity: An Introduction. econfip.org. January.

Positive Psychology 1504. Harvard’s Groundbreaking Course (http://positivepsychologyprogram.com/harvards-1504-positive-psychology-course/)

Weeks, John F. 2014. Economics of the 1%. Anthem Press.

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