I recently returned from my first trip to India where I spoke on communication and conflict mastery in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. I was told the trip would be life changing. It was.
At least with the people I met, hidden agendas were nowhere to be found. Even the beggars and people who pushed their products, monkeys, cobras and small children on their arms on me had no hidden agendas. What a contrast from looking into another American’s eyes and nearly always sensing some personal agenda and effort to manipulate or at least maneuver you to get their way.
The respect and desire to be of service was also remarkable and the greetings and farewells of, “Namaste,” so sincere. India has a culture of service and giving which would never play in contemporary America (which is more of a culture of selling and taking), possibly because Americans equate being of service with servitude and being in a “one down” submissive position. Also the genuine smiles of happiness regardless of status or cast at being able to be of service was in stark contrast to what I see in America.
I think this might be due to the fact that when you are focused on and even honored to be of service (it took me a while to realize that every smile was not an oblique request for a tip, but for merely a facial and verbal expression of gratitude) you feel free of feelings of jealousy, envy, “zero sum” thinking or having to practice deception and manipulation to get what you want.
I think much of it comes from their Hindu traditions and beliefs. I also think much of it comes from how clearly dependent upon each other — be it for survival or success — they all know they are. Finally I think much of it must come from the way scooters, motorcycles (carrying as many as a family of five), auto-rickshaws (carrying as many as twenty),cars, tractors, horse and cow driven carts, bulls and wild emaciated dogs, all ages of people (including unaccompanied three year olds) walking in between the traffic, drivers disregarding lanes and even direction all work together in a kind of controlled chaos (as a medical doctor it made me think of how our differently bodily organs must interact with each other… how do a gall bladder, liver and GI tract really get along?). The cat like reflexes of everyone are something to behold.
On my nine hour round trip drive from Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, I am convinced that I would have killed at least 50 people had I been driving. It was more than worth the 1000 rupees (slightly more than $20US) tip I gave my driver at the end (which represented two thirds of a month’s pay for him).
What had the most profound effect on me was visiting the National Gandhi Museum which was built upon the site of his assassination. As I walked through the museum I grabbed some photos of some of his wisdom which seems more apropos than ever.
I think my greatest takeaway from India is that since America wasn’t happy with more, it’s ridiculous to think that it will be happy with less. If instead, America can derive and feel the pleasure in being of service coincident with the relief from greed, jealousy, envy, and having to connive and manipulate that doing so offers, we will learn to be happier and BTW the rest of the world will learn to be happier with us.