India’s greatest commodity is her abundance of people. We in the Western world rely on technology and machinery. India multiplies the human work force, forgoing modern machinery and convoluted inventions. In her most basic form, India relies on co-operation amongst her people.
In Varkala each morning, way before I wake up, the wooden fishing boats loaded with men and a huge net set out into the Arabian Sea. Energized by manpower, rowing with extended paddles they brave the wild waves to set out nets for gathering fish.
By 8:00 am the neighbourhood men gather for the harvest. Lined up along the long ropes they create a live tug of war effect, joining their muscle power to pull in the harvest of fish in the nets. As each man reaches the final pull, he moves to the front of the line, positioning himself strategically to continue his efforts. At the back, the used rope gets wound up, readying for the next day. Whistling, singing, yelling, laughing, they continue to pull. After a good hour and a half the empty net lays dormant on the sandy ground. Each man has a small bag of catch, perhaps ready to sell at the local restaurant, or a meal to take home for his family.
Malayalam is not a gentle language, so the interaction often sounds like angry yelling. The broad smiles, however and the vibrant shared laughter assures me of their joy and shared congeniality. They know there’s enough food for the day, and they trust in the good intentions of each other. That understanding of mutual respect is essential to work productively.
This same co-operation is evident everywhere! Riding on the streets of Fort Cochin one afternoon, I stop peddling my bicycle to watch a crowd of people working together to build a second floor on one of the neighbourhood houses. Positioning themselves on each rung of a ladder spanning from the ceiling of the first floor to the top of the second floor, men and women pass cement bricks from one to the next. Beginning from the cement mixer on the ground the brick moves to the next hands. Each brick gets passed until it finds the next appropriate space in the wall and is put in place. It all happens with the joint effort that comes with teamwork.
In India, the largest commodity of the country is her people. India’s population is one of the largest in the world. The economy is weak and many individuals struggle to survive. That’s why people power fuels the growth of the country. People are the country’s wealth.
In schools in Southern India, it is not unusual to have 70 students in an elementary classroom with one teacher present. Students are engaged, respectful, seemingly happy, and the literacy rate in the state of Kerala is 97%.
In North America, teachers in our system struggle with 32 students in a classroom, complaining that it is impossible to teach to the various needs. I say, let’s take a lesson from India. Teaching our young teachers to develop lesson plans that include students teaching students is imperative and healthy. Research about co-operative learning supports the notion that many of us thrive on making sense of the material by interacting with others. Making the content meaningful, sometimes more personal, by having conversations with peers and colleagues, helps to bring meaning to a more practical level.
I see this in many places I go. On Gabriola, many of us care deeply about the wellbeing of our neighbours. Nobody needs to go homeless or go hungry. Sometimes individuals can be ‘down and out’, in need of support and extra resources. In a strong community, there’s a dance that happens that provides space for shared leadership and also helplessness.
Steven Covey talks about attaining peak level of cooperation by establishing a ‘shared vision'. Once all participants ‘buy in’ to the end product, cooperative interaction becomes more reasonable. As our children were growing up, preparing meals became a cooperative endeavour. I remember the first time our (then) 10-year-old daughter gets into my car on the way home from school, and she says “What are we making for dinner tonight?” That expression of “we” reinforced for me the cooperative nature of our family. It was a simple need that each of us had a part in. And, if someone had too much homework one day, or simply wasn’t home to participate, it was forgiven, because that person would certainly be available at another time. Meals were a pleasant opportunity to gather and share and eat. We all enjoyed it, and, we all benefitted.
Cooperation requires skilful development that doesn’t happen by itself. Establishing a sound mutually respectful foundation must be grounded in a clear understanding of expectations and roles. Ongoing interaction for clarification and ‘check in’ is essential. Whether it’s for building a house, or dragging the fish in for the day, or planning and making a meal together, or ensuring that the whole class understands the times tables in math, cooperative communication can only enhance the process for all. Here, in Canada, we have a lot to learn from India’s people!