How Society Shapes Our Behaviour

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Social Construction of Behaviour – impact of Kaal(time), Desh(region) and Context

For millennials, humans have lived in tribes, communities and societies. Their behaviour has been evolved to best support their survival, against predators – both animals and other tribes, for resources, and for better reproductive success.

Ethologist Michael Chance, studies higher primates and humans and describes two basic modes in which a community is organised and the resultant social interaction: Agonic and Hedonic. Read through the next two paragraphs to determine where do you Indian-ness leans towards?

The Agonic (with anchor in Power) mode is based upon the collective’s perception and experience of threat, power and anxiety, and the group is essentially a source of defence against external threat, call it in-group / out-group. (Apna/Paraya).The intra-group relations are marked by mutual defensiveness and the group has to develop ways to ensure that hostilities are controlled and contained. This could also include submission or appeasement. This would be basis the assessment of the adversary and their ‘relative holding potential’ compared to their own. This results in the creation of the pecking order, compliance and threat of punishment. The bonding is an alliance against a potential enemy. All relationships are determined by the relative positions of people in the hierarchy.

Consequently, the group is organised hierarchically around that individual who has the maximum fighting capability and the intra-group relations are marked by mutual defensiveness. Thus aggression is a valued attribute, and would determine the status and entitlements. Leaders here are expected to be decisive, lead from the front, and courageous.

The Hedonic (with anchor in prestige) mode is based upon playful catching up of attention, prestige and mutual support. Consequently, the focus shifts from negative attention (being potentially harmful) to positive attention (being competent and potentially helpful).Qualities that would enhance social approval such as beauty, intelligence, talents, special skills would be held in higher esteem. The group is seen as a source of mutual confidence and the intra-group relations are marked by interdependency, rather than defensiveness. These communities are characterised by ‘egalitarian values’ – it is more affectional. Maximising positive attention is the goal here. Intimacy, personal relationships are encouraged, and aggression is discouraged in this mode. Focus is on harmony instead, and good relationships. In somewhat similar vein, Gert Hofstede*1 refers to this as ‘Masculine and Feminine Cultures’ and confirms India is moderate on Masculine (the elaboration of which is another post by itself :)).  Leaders get pay-off in ‘giving/gifting’ as such acts earn him a reputation of being good.

Such groups are organised around the individual who has maximum prestige which is derived either through altruistic acts or demonstration of superior skills. The leader is one who emerges with the maximum prestige, which is acquired by acts of altruism or through demonstration of a superior skill. Leaders value dialogue, consensus, and harmony. Much time is spent on building alignment.

Quiz: So what mode does India lean towards? 

To cut to the chase, Ashok Malhotra basis his EUM empirical research says that the data (on Indian Managers) reveals that “My inclination is towards hedonic mode, and hence the best I can do to survive and prosper is to modify myself and embrace the agonic mode”*2.

You can readily appreciate that one aspect of India is a ‘collage’ of both traditional and modern influences. There are two simultaneous modes operating in India: primary axis ‘relational’ and secondary ‘competitive’ influenced by western education, and ‘aping’ the west. These create dilemmas in managing polarities, contradictions, and paradoxes. Also, there is ‘No one India‘ – it differs from regions, to class, and income levels. Also, depending on which ‘varna’ one identifies with, how one is expected to behave in situations may also vary. At Corporate level, the Nurturant Task Leader, or ‘Karta’ is the most accepted and effective mode. I argue that the ‘recommended western leadership models’ from the West do NOT work in India, (a subject for another post).

There are several other facets of Indian-ness. Do share if you have found this useful and I will be encouraged to build on other aspects of the dualities, polarities, and paradoxes that constitutes the Indian culture.

Please Like, Comment or Share. 

Citations: *1

*2 Ashok Malhotra, Indian Managers and Organisations – Boons and burdens, Routledge, page 183

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