a speech by Narayana Murthy: learning from the west

Learning From the West – N R Narayana Murthy

The entire speech is at the link, also in a PDF form on the IITD site.

Some excerpts and comments here…

As it is said in the Vedas: Man can live individually, but can survive only collectively. Hence, the challenge is to form a progressive community by balancing the interests of the individual and that of the society. To meet this, we need to develop a value system where people accept modest sacrifices for the common good.

There are two pillars of the cultural value system – loyalty to family and loyalty to community. One should not be in isolation to the other, because, successful societies are those which combine both harmoniously. It is in this context that I will discuss the role of Western values in contemporary Indian society.

Some of you here might say that most of what I am going to discuss are actually Indian values in old ages, and not Western values. I live in the present, not in the bygone era. Therefore, I have seen these values practiced primarily in the West and not in India. Hence, the title of the topic.

I am happy as long as we practice these values – whether we call it Western or old Indian values. As an Indian, I am proud to be part of a culture, which has deep-rooted family values. We have tremendous loyalty to the family. For instance, parents make enormous sacrifices for their children. They support them until they can stand on their own feet. On the other side, children consider it their duty to take care of aged parents.

I guess the last line above has changed somewhat nowadays. But I think to a large extent it still holds good. Another thing is that the parents often try to support them even after they can stand on their own feet :mrgreen: I don’t know to what extent I’m any kind of representative of the current generation, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to try and ensure that my future kids learn to stand on their own feet, and learn to become independent of me as soon as they want to*

We believe: Mathru devo bhava – mother is God, and pithru devo bhava – father is God. Further, brothers and sisters sacrifice for each other. In fact, the eldest brother or sister is respected by all the other siblings. As for marriage, it is held to be a sacred union – husband and wife are bonded, most often, for life. In joint families, the entire family works towards the welfare of the family. There is so much love and affection in our family life.

Being born and brought up in a joint family, I can relate very much to the above para. As the almost-youngest in the family, its been especially true for me 8)

This is the essence of Indian values and one of our key strengths. Our families act as a critical support mechanism for us. In fact, the credit to the success of Infosys goes, as much to the founders as to their families, for supporting them through the tough times. Unfortunately, our attitude towards family life is not reflected in our attitude towards community behavior. From littering the streets to corruption to breaking of contractual obligations, we are apathetic to the common good. In the West – the US, Canada, Europe, Australia , New Zealand – individuals understand that they have to be responsible towards their community.

The primary difference between the West and us is that, there, people have a much better societal orientation. They care more for the society than we do. Further, they generally sacrifice more for the society than us. Quality of life is enhanced because of this. This is where we need to learn from the West.

Had noted some more examples in Germany.

Its about time some who’s voice matters said things like this… Hats off to him for such bold and honest statements:

Our intellectual arrogance has also not helped our society. I have traveled extensively, and in my experience, have not come across another society where people are as contemptuous of better societies as we are, with as little progress as we have achieved. Remember that arrogance breeds hypocrisy. No other society gloats so much about the past as we do, with as little current accomplishment. blockquote>

If we have to progress, we have to change this attitude, listen to people who have performed better than us, learn from them and perform better than them. … We continue to rationalize our failures. No other society has mastered this part as well as we have. Obviously, this is an excuse to justify our incompetence, corruption, and apathy. This attitude has to change. As Sir Josiah Stamp has said: It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.

Finally, let us work towards maximum welfare of the maximum people – Samasta janaanaam sukhino bhavantu. Thus, let us – people of this generation, conduct ourselves as great citizens rather than just good people so that we can serve as good examples for our younger generation.


* Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet, about children…

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

7 Responses to “a speech by Narayana Murthy: learning from the west”

  1. msanjay Says:

    One more thing we can learn from the west is that after they retire, they don’t feel as if their life is ended, but they really BEGIN a new lease of life, just like “2nd Innings” in Lage Raho Munna Bhai!

    They take to all kinds of leisure activities, projects or responsibilities… one can find really elderly people cycling around in parks or even doing more adventurous things like hiking and exploring.

    On the other hand, I’ve had intimate conversations with some old people, and find that beyond all their activities that’s keeping them busy, occupied and entertained on the outside, they’re also very very lonely inside.

    Its not that this loneliness does not happen in India, leave alone people in age old homes, even the old people in a home with all their kids and grandkids around them who love them a lot are still bound to feel a terrible loneliness – some kind of emptiness that inspite of everything, there’s something missing.

    But the main thing one should learn from the west is that they don’t lose their spirit. I think this trend is changing in India as we find more and more exceptionally spirited elderly people in India as well nowadays (they were there earlier as well, but the ratio seems to have increased).

  2. Ravi Says:

    Hi Sanjay,
    Here’s a link to my writeup about NRN.

    Do let me know your thoughts!

  3. msanjay Says:

    Ravi, just skimmed through it, looked quite informative and well researched, will have a more detailed look by the weekend and add my 2p.

  4. December Stud Says:

    What caught my eye was a statement that said that the maximum default rate on education loans was from Indians. Really ? I guess coming from Narayana Murthy, I HAVE to believe it. But, I had never heard of that…and honestly that’s very hard to believe.

  5. msanjay Says:

    Long ago when I was considering applying to Australia I’d heard – from a well meaning educational consultant – something on similar lines that there are unfortunately maximum violations of the employment regulations by Indian students.

    I don’t know how it is compared to other nationalities, but from an absolute (not relative) point of view, we probably have some scope of improvement on the integrity front.

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