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Satyalogue: A New Advice Column

February 2008
Satyalogue: A New Advice Column


An Introduction

In an article appearing in the January issue of Khabar magazine, I alluded to the seemingly increasing philosophical distance between a rapidly changing modern India and its “Father of the Nation.” But is Gandhian philosophy dispensable according to the prevailing moods and sensibilities? Or like all Truth, is it timeless and boundaryless? Do the ethics that Mohandas K. Gandhi used in his lifetime in India, England, and South Africa apply to 21st-century desi and pardesi lives in India and America?

In this column, I invite you to keep Gandhian thought alive in the new millennium. All of you—young and old, first generation and second generation, students and professionals—are encouraged to send PMG your ethical quandaries. Depending on the query, “PM” might mean “Prime Minister” for political questions, “Pita and Mata” for familial ones, “Penny-pinching and Money-making” for financial ones, “Pedagogy and Matriculation” for academic ones, or “Physical and Metaphysical” for philosophical ones. You decide which questions require reflection through Gandhiji’s bifocals; the assumption behind the responses will be that we live in a PostModern world that values individual agency, dialogue, and truth. The “G” is shorthand for Gandhiji, for whom I will serve as a kind of a translator, using his aphorisms and rendering them relevant to our times.

Perhaps a bit of my worldview will shed light on my cultural, academic, and professional interest in Gandhiji. India, the country of my birth, has taught me that there are many ways to live a life, many ways to structure a society: the received identities that one gets from parents, siblings, teachers, employers, friends, and communities are not the only identities available to us; and the received cultures that are passed down are not the only cultural possibilities. My research into globalization, diaspora, and work transformation has taught me that the world is replete with change and choice at both the societal and individual levels. For societies and individuals, change is an ongoing process, and choices must be made to embrace the change or maintain continuity with the past.

Dear reader, I imagine that like Gandhiji in the first half of the last century, you are confronted with many questions and choices while in the midst of your own transitions. I value the interaction with you in the same way that I value consulting engagements with my clients. As a change management consultant, I often include in client workshops the following Gandhian quote: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

(Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, president of the OrganiZationAlignment Consulting Group, serves as a consultant to organizations requiring change leadership and a trusted advisor to individuals going through transitions. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj_oza@hotmail.com. Along with your submittal, please include your full name and location. Typically, we will include your first name and city of residence. You may request your name be withheld in a published question, in which case we will use “Anonymous” and the city of residence.)

On to the first question, an age-old conflict that many if not most college-going Indian-American youngsters face. While we await Satyalogue with our readers during the first few months of this young column’s life, we will use questions not actually submitted to Khabar. For example, the age-old conflict described below is amalgamated from open conversation with several university students for whom “Priya” is a representative.

Dear PMG:

I’m not terribly good at Math or Science, but my parents want me to be a doctor. I love Papa and Mummy and don’t want to let them down. At the same time, even though I’m enjoying my second year of college, I always feel tired and sometimes even a bit sad in the pre-med classes. Is it ethical to keep pretending to my parents that I will be a physician while secretly planning a different course of study?

Priya, Palo Alto

Dear Friend,

“True education is that which helps us to know the atman, our true self, God and Truth. To acquire this knowledge, some persons may feel the need for a study of literature, some for a study of physical sciences and some others for art. But every branch of knowledge should have as its goal knowledge of the self” (M. K. Gandhi, 1932).

The challenge you face is to be true to your self. Of course you may feel you have multiple selves that conflict with each other: Priya the daughter, Priya the student, Priya the friend, and so many other Priyas, including maybe Priya the poet. Look for ways to integrate and balance all these selves into a cohesive whole. In your letter you’ve only indicated discomfort with what your parents want you to be; you haven’t addressed what you would like to do. Who knows, you might even discover that you are meant to be a poetic practitioner of medicine like William Carlos Williams. The only unethical action is to push away your interests or that of your parents and thus limit your truthful self-exploration.

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