Harvard Business Review and marriage...

Another insightful article on the HBR blog today, can be read here.

Essentially, this blog refers to a paper that describes the four elementary forms of social relationships :

  • Family : Everyone shares, unconditionally, no one keeps score.

  • Neighborhood : Don't share equally , but strive for equality (If you have a flat tire, your neighbor might lend a hand. It would be strange to pay him, but you might lend him something as a way to say thanks).

  • Hierarchy : Everyone does as they are told, everyone has a defined role.

  • Market : Everyone is paid their worth.

Further, the blog goes on to articulate why in the best work environments, there is always a mixture of both hierarchy and neighborhood. Treating employees like family would be unfair, as not everyone could pull their weight equally, and a market-type scenario could be detrimental as well. After all employees generally get paid less than what they could get in the open market, which is why consultant wages are higher.

This made me think about marriages. Specifically in context of the Indian marriage in my parent's day and age. A majority of marriages in those days were arranged - thus limiting what we today call "free will". In fact, there are parts of the Indian society even today, where it is the oldest living relative of the family that would make decisions about who the younger ones marry. In that sense, there is a definite sense of structure there, with the elders playing a superior role. But it isn't all hierarchy - there is an element of "market" there as well - elements like financial standing, caste, class etc. inherent in any mating ritual, arranged or not. The "neighborhood" piece comes into play as well when the couple gets married - the extended family of in-laws behave in this manner with each other, friendly but not intimate. And finally there is the family piece - the couple themselves sticking through highs and lows, going the extra mile to make sure the family stays together. Divorce rates in those days were pretty low, partly due to the hierarchy of the social structure, partly due to disparity in the "market" but also due to people's attitude towards marriage.

Modern day pop psych states unequivocally that couples have a much greater chance of making it if they go down the aisle thinking that marriage is forever. Maybe that's what the society then gave couples , whether by the form of social taboo about separation or otherwise. But that set-up did come with some built-in checks and balances. Both sides of the family were heavily involved in the couples life, and decision making. That took the modern day individualism out of the equation, but it did build in some conflict resolution and free marriage advice, things that are available today for 200 dollars an hour. Moreover, couples that lived in the joint family setup lacked what we cherish today, privacy. Their marriage had to be conducted in the public, very voyeuristic glare of the extended relatives, friends, family and the maids. There was pressure on them to have kids as soon as they were married. All their decisions were dictated by someone else. But amidst it all, most of those marriages survived.

One possible explanation of this could be the "common enemy" theory. When you think about it, the most powerful social groups you've formed , right from high school to college, have been through common interests, but more importantly,a common enemy. The other explanation could be that if you have an active conflict with someone else, you are more likely to bond with your spouse because your negative energy has an external sink, and this could have prevented couples from turning against each other.

Marriages in those days were, by no means perfect. I know I have personally judged the marriages of people in my previous generation, and sometimes quite harshly. As much has they condemn modern day , free will ones with disappearing gender roles and skyrocketing divorce rates. But then,there is the question of what defines a successful marriage ? If a couple stays under the same roof, just because of social pressures or because it is convenient , but the communication has completely stopped, would you still classify that as a successful marriage ? Similarly, what is a good enough reason to leave ? Where would you draw the line ?

Maybe in today's world, a successful marriage has the family element to it, the unconditional love bit. But it also has a bit of the neighborhood element as well, which lets you keep your individuality, and yet function as a successful couple. This way your identity doesn't just dissolve into the larger, common social/family unit but thrives independently, thus bringing a better part of yourself to the relationship.

Thoughts ?

The return home....

This post had to be written. However, the timing couldn't be better.

Two posts brought be back from my blogging ennui. They are here and here.

Without going into the details of these posts, let me summarize - two different authors have returned to India after a period of time and talk about their experiences.

In my personal journey - I've lived various parts of south India until 17, at which point I moved to North India to spend the next four years of my life. I left India to move to the U.S. a week after I turned 21 , where I lived in about four different cities over the next seven years of my life. I then decided to move again, this time to the U.K.. We've moved around a fair bit when I was growing up, and I am no stranger to uprooting yourself from a place , moving and starting all over. I've done this quite a few times in my life.

Change of any kind is hard. No matter how used to it you get. Status-quo is just fine, it will do, it has done. It's much easier to stay in your comfort zone than to adapt to new things. And , the older you are, the harder it gets. Also, bear in mind that all these moves so far related to me, mostly. I was the only one living with the consequences of each decision to move, the good and the bad. But it is going to be different now, the next move we make, has to work for both of us. And at some point, there will be more of us involved - his parents,mine, siblings,nephews, our own kids someday. That definitely complicates the decision to move back. And yes, there are financial and lifestyle implications of that decision as well. And of course, there are blindspots - unforseen circumstances and such.

The move from India to the west happens for reasons we all know - better education, better job prospects, money, lifestyle. Things that for most people, would have been hard to get in India, for various reasons. But what motivates people to move back ? I think therein lies the heart of the issue. Every country, every culture comes with its own charecteristics. The author of the NYtimes article claims that the Indian society dehumanizes people.It also makes references to inherent casteism, rampant even in the modern day Indian society. I don't question the veracity of this argument, not for one second. But it is also worth keeping in mind that people aren't ideal - neither are countries and cultures.

The other day, I saw this discussion on British television , where the prime minister addressed the issue of adoption in this country. In this country, black kids are three times less likely to be adopted than white kids,mainly due to the social workers not giving up black kids to white homes for adoption. Yes, it has become a political issue, with parties calling it apartheid-style discrimination. But let's put that side and view it differently for a minute. Imagine the practical difficulties of a black kid growing up in white family - the effect it would have on the child growing up. How would the grandparents, siblings and neighbors, schoolmates accept this child ? What effect would it have on a young child during impressionable years when the identity is still being formed ? It is the job of the social worker to consider all these elements and determine what's best for the child.

A colorblind society is a recipe for disaster. The best cultures move to a place where they understand, acknowledge and appreciate the differences, maybe even celebrate them. Colorblind means closing your eyes and saying no differences exist - color-appreciative means you acknowledge the differences, accept and imbibe them into your cultural fabric. India's casteism is not much different from the racial paradigms, and the issues that the west is trying to solve for.

The return back home is bittersweet. It's a country you know, and a culture that defines you. And yet, you are somehow removed from it. It is like the ability to act in a play and watch it from the sidelines at the same time. We've all read many a book and seen many a movie that talks about immigrant woes. But what an amazing opportunity to carve out a new world for yourself ? One that isn't bound and defined by where you are from or where you live but by who you choose to be ?

After all, isn't that the freedom that propelled a lot of us to pack up, move and explore ?