For The First Time You Are Part Of The Mob: 3 Questions To Guide You Out
“Pat my back,”I had told Arnab after we had concluded a very successful event in Bangalore. It was this time of the year, fourteen years ago, on a pleasant evening we had wrapped up an event at IIM Bangalore auditorium. The event, a panel discussion, was to promote the then newly launched, not-so widely viewed, Times Now channel. The back story is Arnab Goswami was not willing to moderate the panel. We, the channel’s brand team, needed him to be the face of the event so that we could build familiarity for him with the audience and it took us some convincing. So, when he was applauded for his exemplary discussion and received a euphoric response for his oratory skills, I directed him to pat my back in front of his team as an appreciation for the success of the session. This morning, I woke up nervously as I dreamt of him patting my back, in appreciation of being his audience.
Here we are, a witness to the new social fabric unfolding in the country this week, where there is lofty attention given to an actor’s death and subsequent events. Indian television news have devoted airtime to distracting viewers from their woes with probe into the death of popular actor Sushant SIngh Rajput, wrote Financial Times . Today we have a number of media platforms congratulating us, the audience, for helping in weaving this current social fabric. Not just news TV channels, Whatsapp groups and social media timelines are flooded with the same euphoria that fuels mindless people who are behind cameras and mikes. The more we react, the harder they shove cameras and mikes in people’s body, the more we circulate videos, the more vigorous they get with people, so what if he is just a postman. Wait, we are not the witness, we are the tools that have made this happen.
At our Habits for Thinking platform, it is not about the news media or the death case and the subsequent events, but it is about frameworks to hone critical thinking skills, that shape our personal and professional growth. And today, the skill we are talking about is of making choices. The choice to stay neutral or to take up an actionable step. We have discussed the art of making choices when we saw snake-like queues outside alcohol shops during lockdown days in this article. Today’s piece is about how one should think during these social lynching times when one has inadvertently landed in a digital mob. This article is for our understanding of the situation, the message that we spread and the responsibility as a leader. It lays the roadmap to make informed choices.
1. Decode & accept:
It has been proven through research1 that populist attitudes are driven by feelings of anger, rather than fear. If you have been feeling angry about the events, you must remember, our collective anger is the reward and the ultimate goal that has been crafted methodically. There is not just one person who is served as a victim on the plate, but there is a whole bunch of us who are the spice in the dish.
Emotional intelligence is accepting and acknowledging our own response to the situation. Acceptance makes room for clear thinking. If you have been feeling raged, think about Djokovic’s getting defaulted after hitting a line judge with a ball. He accepted his status, congratulated the opponent and moved out. Accept your emotions and think of next steps.
2. Medium is the message:
If you are a parent, you would have heard umpteen times that the way you behave is the way your child behaves. This is the truest form of one being both the medium and the message. Naomi Osaka wears a name on her mask everyday during this year’s US Open. The name is of one of the black victims like Trayvon Martin, George Floyd. Colin Kaeprnick took a knee to mark his protest. Osaka, Kaepernick and people with greater reach understand the power of the platform they stand on, which helps them drive the message home. They become the medium and the message.
Each one of us is a medium and our choice of action or inaction is the message. Each one of us at our home and at work, contribute in the making or unmaking of the apathy around us.
3. The leadership choice:
“Appearances matter and remember to smile,” said Nelson Mandela in a leadership article for Time magazine2. The magazine writes- when Mandela was running for the presidency in 1994, he knew that symbols mattered as much as substance. He was never a great public speaker, and people often tuned out what he was saying after the first few minutes. But it was the iconography that people understood. The ubiquitous ANC election poster was simply his smiling face. “The smile,” says Ramaphosa (who was secretary-general of the ANC), “was the message.”
As a leader, you have a choice to stay ignorant or broach the subject with your teams. Several business leaders, including Twitter’s CEO have announced their support to the Black Lives Matter in their respective states. Corporates like Unilever have taken steps against hate speech by withdrawing advertising funds from Facebook. As an action, it is not necessary to protest, but it is critical to appear as a leader who takes the position to listen, to educate, to guide. Listen to make people feel heard, educate where the real problem lies, and guide on how we can stop being victimised. It is not necessary for corporates to take actions, but it is critical for teams to strengthen their culture. We, all of us together, at home and at work, make the social fabric. Each one of us. When the mob watches a lynching, it is called mob-lynching even if only a handful are involved in the act. Similarly, when the fabric will burn, we will burn too.
And if you think it is already late, remember, journalist Priya Ramani disclosed the sexual harassment case against M J Akbar 25 years later because ‘back then there was a vacuum in law and there was no platform either,’ as she said in the court this week.
It is never too late.
As we see big events unfold around us, we must understand how it shapes us. If we ask these three questions, it will bring clarity and channelise our energies in the right direction.
You may be happy about it or you may be raging.
You may choose to hold your emotions or show anger or get a deeper understanding.
You may leave the matter under the carpet or you may bring it up with your team.
You may choose inaction or you may decode, be the message and lead.
You are the sum of choices you make.
- 1The Emotional Underpinnings of Populism: How Anger and Fear Affect Populist Attitudes https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/spsr.12261