Why do people commit violence?


For that matter, why do people do anything? De Becker talks about 4 things.

  1. Justification: we make a judgement that we have been wronged, hence we need to retaliate. If we think about it, we have justified each of our actions (or inaction). Sometimes we say it was necessary or unavoidable. Sometimes, we assume an impact which may or may not really happen.
  2. Alternatives: typically, violence seems to be the only alternative. This comes out of a lack of emotional control, where we are so much into the emotion that we cannot perceive any other option.
  3. Consequences: whether we can live with the consequences of the act. In fact, if we are afraid of further retaliation, we may not act.
  4. Ability:  do we have the confidence to use our body or a substitute (knife, gun or another person) to achieve the results.

When we talk about motivating others, the justification is the end result (either we want to avoid the pain or go towards pleasure) or what we want to get the person to do.

How we achieve the end result, are our alternatives. As a manager, we need to understand the other person’s justification and then come up with alternatives. We may then choose the right alternative. However, in general, we choose the first or the emotionally satisfying one.

Typically people stop at this level of analysis and start to act. But a good manager would think of the following also:

Will the action guarantee the consequence? What about other unintended consequences? This requires a certain experience.

Are we capable of doing this action? Intention and the selection of the most ideal alternative do not guarantee execution, if we do not have the skills and the experience.

Most motivational tactics fail, because without execution capability, they is only wishful thinking.

Suppose we wish to make people in the team work.

  • The justification is the result of the the team work. Whether team members buy into the result will determine if they will contribute. The result may not be important if it is not important to a person. finding what a person wants and linking the result of the team effort to this ‘want’ requires a certain creativity.
  • What can we tell a person so that he is convinced that he should do the work allotted to him. Maybe it is not the right work, because he perceives it demeaning. Maybe he thinks that you have given some one else the work that he wants to do, and that you are playing favorites.
  • Does the person believe that the work he is supposed to do will have the right consequences? If you promise him that it will, but he does not have confidence in you, then he will not do it, even if he has the capability.
  • And lastly, are you sure he can do this work?

Suppose we wish to change our job.

  • We justify the change of job – the boss is not good, the company is not good, the work has changed etc.
  • We look for alternative jobs – and here we indulge in a lot of wishful thinking and peer comparison.
  • We check of the short list of jobs will have the right consequences in terms of peer approval, money and prestige.
  • We do not typically, look at our capability in doing that job because we are focused on the job profile, not our capability.

Reacting to uncertainty – fear, anger and depression


We join the MBA program with visions of “leading a team of dedicated professionals towards a pre-defined objective.” We hope to meet like-minded folks and pit our wits with them. We hope to meet professors who will reveal the arcane workings of the stock market, of marketing and of corporate strategy. We hope to discover our self-identity, our purpose in life and define our future.

Within one trimester, all these dreams come crashing down. We are not sure of our grades. The seniors abuse us and disabuse us of wishful thinking. We do not understand the subjects. Parents put pressure on our academics and the return on their investment. Everyone, professors, colleagues and seniors tell us we are nothing, we are idiots and we do not deserve to be MBAs.  Even in personal life, long distance relationships with girl/boy-friends become high maintenance. New relationships are created and broken in a jiffy. We wonder what is wrong with us.

All this creates low self esteem. We are unsure of ourselves and our ability to cope. We are afraid of failing in our eyes, and in our stakeholders’ eyes. We are depressed by the peer comparison and the feeling that there is no path to redemption. We also get angry – at ourselves, at parents, at relationships, at the lack of sensitivity in people, at professors, at seniors, at auto drivers, at bus drivers. We take refuge in alcohol, drugs, movies…anything that will make us forget the reality for a moment.

But reality creeps back in, smiling insanely, slipping the knife in and cruelly turning it, reopening old wounds. Life becomes a roller coaster ride of extreme mood-swings.

We learn to adjust sometime in  the middle of the year and sort of accept and reconcile to the various pressures. Life looks predictable again.

Then comes the summer internship and now the external world joins the litany. “What do they teach you in the MBA course?”, “You are worthless, even a non MBA does better than this!” and the greatest responsibility-avoidance statement, “Why should we help you? You are an MBA, you should know, figure it out!!”

Our self esteem comes crashing down. We are unable to deliver. Life is uncertain once more. Depression, fear and anger return.

Then comes the second year. New professors, deeper levels of knowledge and professors who are doyens in the industry joining in the litany, “What did you learn in first year…were you sleeping in class?” “What, I have to teach you first year stuff and the second year stuff, all in one trimester?” “You are good for nothing, you will never get a job…!”

Self esteem takes another blow. Depression, fear anger….only solution is distraction – movies, drugs, alcohol, opposite gender.

In the meantime, old friends and relationships are broken, new ones are created. Parental pressure starts building up. Placement looms near and there is a sinking feeling that we are not ready for placement. We desperately try to study hard, brushing up first trimester courses, reading magazines and newspapers, having group discussions in corridors,  creating our black books (contacts who can get us jobs). In the meantime, there are assignments, presentations, long classes and there is a pressure of time and more uncertainty about grades and the future.

We feel incapable of handling all this. Our self confidence is low.

Placements. People who we never expected to get a job, get placed in good salaries. People who have got jobs outside are still competing within the college, depriving others of jobs. People who we thought were Gods are found to have feet of clay. The recruiters too join in the litany, “Rs 7 lakhs worth of job…you must be joking! you do not even know the fundamentals!” “You don’t even know how to talk…you have no emotional intelligence, you have a bad attitude…”

There is depression, fear and anger once again.

One of the ways of raising self esteem is to compare ourselves with others and bring the others down so that we feel better than others. That is the reason why we belittle others, do backbiting and laugh at others’ misfortunes. We lash out at our juniors and our teachers. We rebel, because rebellion is one way of stating that we have control. It is a natural defense mechanism of people who have low self esteem. With the stress bottling up, the natural way is to get angry and verbally and physically abuse or bully anyone who can be bullied.

(Bear in mind that we have low self esteem because all our life our parents, teachers and other well-meaning influencers have compared us to others as a well-meaning method of making us do better!)

Another way is to disregard other people’s opinions, if they are contrary to ours. This is done so that we do not have to change our opinions and thoughts, which would imply that all that we have done in the past was useless and we had been wrong in the past. It is also a form of rebellion.

Putting it all together, if anyone hurts our self esteem, we will lash out and blame them for our problems. We need to keep ourselves blameless, so that we retain a high opinion of ourselves.

Mood Swings and Emotional Balance


I see students alternating between extremes: depression and elation, weeks of procrastination and sudden bursts of frenetic energy, greed and contentment, love and hatred, ‘never’ and ‘always’.

Since these swings are a function of time, they can be considered as emotional waves.

The energy provided to a wave can be expended in two ways: laterally (across the axis of the wave) by increasing the amplitude of the swing, or longitudinally (along the axis of the wave) by increasing velocity.

Mood swings can be similarly compared. Either we can have huge swings (as given in the first paragraph) and therefore get out of swings slowly (remain extremely emotional for a long time), or have smaller swings and move forward faster. Both types consume the same energy, but one gives a better balance than the other and allows you to move forward faster.

All swings have to be controlled. We cannot prevent the swings from happening. A balance is never still. Even the movement of air makes it swing. Every time it reaches equilibrium, something makes it swing again. If the balance swings too wildly, the pan may hit the ground / table and it may be deformed or the centre of the balance may shift, and the balance would never be perfect again.

Similarly extremes in emotions leave scars and sometimes we become permanently unbalanced. I see students with a negative attitude to life and wonder if it is a result of such emotional scars.

Indian philosophy advocates moderation in all things. Tolerance of all beliefs is moderation. We cannot always be truthful, specially if a white lie can save someone’s life or self-esteem (if a girl-friend asks if these jeans make her look fat, what will you answer?) . We will sometimes be sad (not depressed) and sometimes happy. We may detest something (not hate) or like something (not love?).

Moderation leads to balance.

Creating walls around us



I was talking to someone in my daughter’s generation about emotions and she mentioned that some of  her friends have sort of created a wall around themselves, because they have had failed relationships or been hurt emotionally, and they do not want to get hurt any more.

This wall prevents them from having emotions. If the principal calls them to her room, some student

Is this good or bad? In corporate life, would this wall help people survive?s get hassled, the walled ones do not care. If someone shares their emotions, the walled ones do not care. If someone praises or criticizes them, the walled ones do not care.

I think the key word is survival. We create walls to prevent intruders from entering our space because we are unable to control who should be allowed to enter and how much or how long they should remain. The wall that we create, severs the link between stimulus and emotion, by superimposing a belief that nothing matters.

Unfortunately, the wall works both ways. Neither do we display our emotions to the outside world, nor do we acknowledge other people’s emotions.

This lack of transparency in emotions hinders relationships that depend on sharing of emotions and a certain openness.

Without relationships, we become lonely. Some of us are comfortable with being alone, because

  • we are well adjusted people who are okay with our thoughts
  • we keep busy with activities or distractions  that prevent thoughts from intruding

Otherwise, we desperately move from one group to another, trying to find company, but get rejected because of our inability to share our thoughts and create an emotional bond.

In office, this lack of bonding may make us focus on work and therefore we become more productive. But this prevents us from creating goodwill among our peers, and since office life is based on goodwill of colleagues wiling to help and support, this can become an issue as we go higher up the ladder, and we need to depend on subordinates and also need political support.

So what should we do? We have to find a way to become resilient emotionally, so that we can bounce back or regain emotional balance when we are subjected to emotions. If we have this resilience, we do not need the walls, because we know how to handle the emotions when they come, and not artificially shut them out.

Don’t shoot the messenger – ad hominem attacks


What is effective communication? It is a good composition of the message and its flawless transmission? Is it reception of the message without distortion?

Distortion of the message happens at two points

  • during transmission – physical distortion
  • due to the belief of the receiver

The same message, to two different persons will have different reactions. There are three types of beliefs that a receiver has that can impact distortion:

  1. the beliefs that a receiver has and therefore how he interprets the message itself – this is impacted by the language, the tone and the structure of the message. Sometime the size of the message makes a difference: big emails, short sms, terse verbal responses, long and winded verbal responses (lectures)
  2. the receiver’s belief about the sender and the intent of the sender (even an innocuous birthday wishes will have sinister overtones if sent by someone who I think is my enemy; if you do not like a lecturer or his intent, then even his sincere messages will have different overtones)
  3. the communication medium : in today’s discussion, the messenger. I am ignoring physical media like telephone cables, Internet etc.

Traditionally, we are advised to differentiate the message from the messenger. We are supposed to be messenger agnostic. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” we are entreated.

But the messenger will determine how we receive the message. If we do not like the messenger or the way he delivers the message, we will not care about the content or the sender. If a book is good, but it is presented by a lecturer or a student we do not like, then we do not care about the contents of the book, or its writer. If a person gives you feedback, we will care about the feedback based on who is giving us the feedback.

Does it mean that I have to be liked before I can send a message?

Does it mean that I have to be liked before I can deliver a message?

Does it mean that my messenger has to be liked?

Does it mean the message loses its significance?

Look at the response of the receiver. If he does not like the message, he has choices:

  • attack the message,
  • attack the sender and also
  • attack the messenger

If he does not like the sender or the messenger, he has same choices.

So when people do not do what I want them to do, I need to look at my message, the receiver’s perception about me and the receiver’s
perception about the messenger.

I also run the risk that if people do not like my message, they will attack the messenger – the poor guy

So if a teacher wants the student to study, and if a student does not want to study, he will attack the message (the course is useless) or the sender (the writer is not qualified) or the messenger (the professor is useless and does not know how to teach)

If a group member does not like what another group member is suggesting, he will attack his suggestion or he will attack the person.

If a group member does not like the person delivering the suggestion, even if the suggestion is good, he will attack the person and the suggestion.

Why do we fear, when we know that most of the fears are groundless


Our mind is not designed that way. A baby does not fear the snake, the response of the people around him makes it fear the snake. Our fears are a product of our programming. People eat things that other people shudder to look at. People have learnt responses and behaviours that are acceptable. It is the product of the environment we grew up.

The previous blog gives an idea of how this programming happens.

So what does this mean?
Every time I behave or react to a stimulus, I need to understand why I do that. If I understand what makes me do what I do, or be what I am, I can decide whether or not to change my behaviour or values. The desire to change is based on what impact the change will have in the pursuit of my goals. If I do not have a goal, there can be no change, because there is no reason, no purpose. Goals and purpose are related.
One of the ways of understanding self is to understand and accept my fears. Courage has been defined as a realisation that I am afraid, admitting that I am afraid and still go through with the action. Courage is NOT the absence of fear. As long as we have emotions and can think and imagine, we will have fears.

Sometimes fears are derivative. A fear of public speaking can be because of a fear of ridicule.

A deeper understanding comes from how the fears have been created. For this, I need to look back into my past life (the current one, not the previous reincarnations) and pick out the events where I had similar fears. For each such incident, I need to realise if my fears were groundless or not. Typically I find that most of what I feared did not happen.When we start finding the pattern, we get a sense that most fears are groundless and we have more confidence to face the future. We also find that we catastrophised(made mountains out of molehills) the outcome of each event. If we go further back, we can find out the root causes of our conditioning.

For example, the fear of ridicule could be because people laughed at me when I was performing on stage or at home when I was 5 years old.

Once we know and understand how we are conditioned, we have a choice.

  • We can, of course, blame our conditioning for screwing up our life, and live life like that.
  • We can decide to use ‘extinction’ as a method of modifying my behaviour that resulted from my fear. If I have a fear of enclosed lifts (elevators), I can shut myself in it for 1 second, see that my fear is groundless, and keep increasing my exposure to the fear under controlled situations, until I realise that the fear is groundless.
  • The traditional method of throwing a person into the deep water to teach him how to swim has a risk of additional trauma and the fear of water being replaced by the fear and lack of trust of the person who threw him in.
  • There are other therapies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) which could also help. The first one analyses what you think, find patterns in your negative thinking and allows you to logically argue the fallacy of the thoughts. The second one reprograms your thought process by using alternate modelling. Both require qualified professionals.




I belong to this august institution. When such an article appears, it creates a furore and a sense of outrage among the alumni. Here is my letter to them.


Can I put it differently, at the risk of maybe raising the hackles, or maybe a derisive laugh, out of most of us?

I believe that the purpose of our existence to leave mankind better that we found it. Few of us have the means and the ability to uplift large sections of mankind. Most of us can focus only on ourselves and our children.

In our quest for money and fame, did we forget our children? Is it because we were conditioned by our environment, that we value money and foist success in competition and coming first as the criteria for giving favours and our affection? When did we last say, “Don’t worry about the grades?” Why do we look for the best schools, the best that money can buy, when the most important thing that we can give is understanding and support at home? Are we there at home? And when we are, do we sit in judgement based on our criteria or in understanding of their criteria?

Our children’s generation has grown up with a remote in their hand. They are conditioned to change channels when they do not like something. They get gratification instantly and they want quick results. When they cannot get it, they do not know how to handle it. But think…are they responsible for this environment or did we provide it to them? Did we give them the remote? Is it also the price of technological progress – the Wii – that prevents our children from going out and develop social and adjusting skills, the dependency on the internet to think on their behalf?

I do not want to comment on what IITK is doing. All successful organisations or people get defensive when their motives are questioned. That is the price of greatness. Is funding the answer – do we throw money at them similar to what we do at home? An expiation of our guilt – the reason we buy gifts for our children?

The idea of counselling is good, but in this generation and at this age, students want more peer support. That was the original purpose of the counselling service. I remember that even the concept of empathy was alien during our counselling training. That is sorely lacking in an increasingly competitive environment. I know this not just because I was part of the counselling service, but I counsel 20-24 years old students where I teach now. Their biggest issue is self esteem and peer pressure to conform.

How will money help?

The dean keeps asking for alumni to help in counselling. Most of that probably is career counselling – it that about how to get ahead at the cost of others? Are we fostering competition – fighting for the same scarce resources or are we helping students be more creative and find their niche, where they can use their strengths to their and society’s advantage. Some of our batch mates have found their niche – they love what they do and they provide employment while they do it. Are we promoting the argument for creating employment rather than moving money from the needy to the greedy as employees of already large and rich corporations who are downsizing rather than creating employment?

Most of us have 750-plus weekends left in our life. How do we want to spend them? By leaving a larger nest egg for our children to that they never learn to fend for themselves or to help others find their wings?

My apologies if I have wasted your time.


Reframing Unhappiness


I am unhappy when things do not go as I want. The unhappiness is due to unfulfilled desires. It happens when the rest of my world does not have the same view of a perfect world as I have. I think I have done a good job. My boss thinks otherwise and tells me so. I become unhappy. I wanted to see this movie. My significant other or my group wants to see another. I am unhappy.
As soon as I am unhappy, my thought process goes like this. I am right but they are not agreeing with me. If they were my friends, they would agree with me. So they are not my friends. Therefore I do not need to like them. Ergo, I will thwart all they want to do, because they have stopped me from following my wishes. I know that this thought process seems exaggerated in the cold light of day, but when we are unhappy, this is the sentiment.
Since I cannot thwart them, as I have no control over them, I feel incompetent. I have two reactions – either I try to control them (be it my significant other or my boss) or I wallow in self pity. Sometimes, I try control and if that does not work, I wallow. While I wallow, more scenarios come to mind specially those that reinforce my belief. I love these thoughts because they justify my unhappiness and give a reason why I should not do anything.
The result of this mind set and lack of action is that people become genuinely unhappy with me and want to avoid my company. If the issue is at the workplace, the company wants to avoid me. I get fired.
Let me reframe unhappiness. When I am unhappy with the status quo, I want to change it. The desire to change can lead to action. Wallowing in self pity is denying myself the opportunity for action. Sometime I pay lip service to action, but I know that it will not work, so that I can retreat into self pity.
As soon as I am unhappy, I say to myself, “Yes, I am unhappy, therefore I need to change my status quo. What actions can I take?”
The impulsive or instinctive action of fight-flight is obvious. That is what animals do.
Do I have any other choices?
One choice could be to reframe my desire and really determine if this desire is a genuine need or wishful thinking. For example – I want a Rolex and I am unhappy I don’t have one. Do I really need one. What need does it satisfy? To prove to myself that I have money or to impress someone? If neither is necessary, or I can achieve the objective by another means, I don’t need the Rolex.
The other choice could be win some-lose some. Maybe I will agree in this case, so that I invest in a relationship which will yield something bigger later. For example, does it make sense to take up cudgels with my client just because of ego – to prove that I am right. If I agree with him now, will he agree with me later?
The third choice could be to determine an action plan of some duration, which leads to the change in status quo. I sometimes want the complete change to happen overnight, and when that does not happen due to laws of nature, I get the reason to wallow in self pity and stop the action. For example, if I am not satisfied with my weight, my desire is to do something so that I become thin overnight. When that does not happen, I get a reason to give up. I can create a plan with some intermediate checkpoints like losing 500 grams a month so that I can do 6 kilos in a year. The problem is my emotions and the desire for instant gratification.
My point is that I have more than one obvious choice. If I know that all unhappiness leads to choices, I am ready for alternative action and therefore I can stop wallowing in self pity.
In essence, unhappiness can be a good thing.

There is something wrong


If I analyse any bad experience, I generally conclude that there was/is something wrong with me or what I did, or something wrong with the other party involved in the transaction, or with the world (circumstances, parents, boss, government). If that transaction has been beneficial to another person then he obviously does not come to the same conclusion as I do.

When one person feels good and the other feels bad, I would call it a win-lose situation. When I lose, I blame myself and others. If all situations were termed win-lose, then someone or the other in this world would be blaming something or someone. Does this mean that at any point of time, something is always wrong? Was the whole world created wrongly?

If the situation was a win-win situation, then neither party believes that there is anything wrong with the world/ them/ us.

I think the issue is our belief of right or wrong. When we win, things are right, else they are wrong. This is just a belief. Reality is that there are only actions and consequences. A consequence may be adverse to me sometimes, and sometimes it may be positive.

Sometimes, when we get hit by a lot of adverse consequences, we lose heart and do not see the positive in even beneficial consequences. We believe that we always have ill-luck.

On the contrary, I can choose to believe that there is a ‘silver lining’ to all mishaps. I can choose to believe that by the law of averages, good and bad consequences will even out / cancel each other. I can also analyse all the bad things that happened to me in the past and choose to believe that they closed one door but opened another door to my destiny. I would realise that every transaction is essentially win-win even those I considered as ‘I lose- you win’.

Then I would conclude that there is nothing wrong with me, with the other party or the world. People are not good or bad, people are just reacting, the best way they know how to, to circumstances. Actions are not right or wrong, they are reactions to stimulus, coloured by the reactor’s beliefs.

People are neither right or wrong, people just ARE. Something is not right or wrong, something just IS.

So you got rejected!


I have (had?) this dream company that I want to get into. It came to the campus but I did not even make it to the first base. Others, less competent than me, made it. After a bout of depression, I sat down and pondered deeply about what happened.

Did I really prepare well? The basic requirement was to behave as if I was already part of the company and understood its culture and processes well. If I really knew that, I would have known what they were looking for and modified my covering letter and CV accordingly. If it was a aggressive company, my CV and letter would have shown by example, what I have done that was similar in nature. My behaviour in GD would have been different. If it was a company that prided itself on a more nurturing culture, things would have been presented differently.

I did not utilise the pre-placement talk well. This was an opportunity to know the people who would interview me, the real job description, their expectation from me, and to impress them with my research, as well as fill up the gaps in my research. In case I was not selected, it would have given me the names of the people to contact later or to add to my black book.

A basic question that I pondered deeply over was this. Was this the right company for me? Was I applying on the basis of my ego, the salary and perks, my family expectations, advice from well-wishers, and did I know if this would bring me closer to my ultimate goal, and will provide me with the nurturing environment to hone my skills? Did I really have enough information to make that decision?

If the answer to all were in the positive, that is, I had done my research, I had used the PPT effectively, I knew the culture was right, this was the right company for me and I had written the best CV and covering letter, and still got rejected, then I needed to go to plan B.

I have to be persistent and approach the company again, this time armed wih more knowledge.

I would whip out my black book and find someone who knows someone who knows someone, ad infinitum, till I find a link into the company. I would talk to a real person, explain my situation and passion and ask for advice.

I would contact the people who came to the PPT, and explain to them my passion and ask for an appointment at their convenience to meet and re-present my case.

I would write to the CEO or the geo head or the asia pacific head and explain why I think this is the right organisation and culture for me and what I can contribute.

The aim is to get some one to move the faceless HR department not to see me as another faceless aspirant, but some one with flesh and blood and a hunger to do good for my company of choice.