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Toastmasters speech four: The confounding conundrums

January 20, 2013

The objective of this speech is “How to say it”. To focus more on delivery through good choice of words, metaphors, stories, alliterations while getting the point across. Crispness in words and sentences, grammar are important.

The confounding conundrums

Toastmaster of the day, fellow toastmasters, dear guests. A very good evening to you all. One of the aspects I like about Toastmasters is the genuine feedback one gets from fellow toastmasters. The warmth that people show here in helping one to succeed is a highly invaluable take away from these meetings. So today, I want to follow up on some comments I received in my last speech, “Why some countries are poor?”. A few of them made me think and I thought they deserved a response.

Jeop asked me if there are any aspects in which poor countries are “richer” than other countries. What I meant by poor is being materially poor; living a nasty, brutish and short life otherwise known as Hobbesian existence.

In fact,  most of the countries that are presumed to be poor by today’s standards have contributed to the world’s richness in their own unique way and continue to do so. If you take the east for eg, the original ideas of Yoga, the Gita, and Buddhism from the Hindus of ancient India, are not any less contributions. As British historian Arnold Toynbee said on Indian civilization, “The vast literature, the magnificent opulence, the majestic sciences, the soul touching music, the awe inspiring gods. It is already becoming clearer that a chapter which has a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in history the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way“. So, every country has its own comparative advantage and a unique place in this world. It would be hard to measure the greatness of one country over the other with just one yard stick.

Another question was the challenge of economic growth versus the equitable distribution of the economic pie. I’d like to illustrate this with a story that you may have heard before. A few students taking a university course suggested that everyone should be given an equal grade. The professor agreed that everyone would be given the average grade of the whole class. So, the first exam was a B, then C, and eventually all flunked. But why? The professor observed that people who did not want to study were ok not studying at all as they would still be given the same grade as everyone else. What about the ones who were studying? They realized working hard is not useful as their real performance doesn’t matter anyway. As a consequence they did not study either and eventually the whole class flunked.

Similarly, if the income from the highly productive is redistributed to the lowly unproductive in the interest of maintaining equality, some people may choose not to work and live off the government money. If this is aggregated over a large number of people, the over all productivity falls and it cannot be sustainable any more. Then, is it wise to ignore the poorer sections of the society? Absolutely not. Again, the reason simply being that, placing ourselves comfortably on top of an economic pyramid when the base is weak is dangerous.

So, what is the solution then?  I am seeking clear answers to these questions myself. In what ways we measure a country’s greatness, in what way we can make equitable distribution of economic pie while the fundamental truth of inequality stares right in our face and bares naked in our path? In what way, we as responsible citizens contribute to the elimination of extreme poverty in our world? These are the confounding conundrums that we face daily but don’t quite recognize. To me, our attempts to find an answer is like touching the rainbow. We see the rainbow in all its seeming reality but can never feel it nor touch it. It is an apparent illusion of another physical reality. The more I think about it, the more I feel like I am cradling between an apparent illusion and a transient reality that I can’t grasp completely.

Now, what is the course of action? The risk of sounding preachy notwithstanding, I will tell what I am doing but not tell what to do. As Alan Watts, the Buddhist philosopher rightly put, “Don’t be the monkey to save the fish from drowning”. It is important to understand a problem before we begin to act. So, at this moment, I am trying to understand the problem. And if this may be valuable to you, please feel free to be my fellow traveler…and together let’s change this world.

Thank you.

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