Lessons from the Past 67: A Shield for ‘Are you doing well?’
In this series, I had written a while ago on the problems of envy and jealousy. Some of our readers wrote back to me to say that I had explained the problem, but gave no guidance or a solution. 
 
Yes, the solution lies in our own attitude. It may be summarised in what Plutarch said many years ago: “Those Macedonians,” said he, “are a rude and clownish people. They call a spade, a spade. Should we follow that example?
 
Everyone knows that the word ‘progress’ means different things to different people. Yet, most of us want to be abreast of everyone we know. We certainly want to be abreast of all our peers. 
 
When I meet friends and acquaintances at airports, on the road, or at parties, they greet me with, “Hello. Haven’t seen you in a long time. How are you doing?” I respond saying, “All is well.” 
 
While there is often a twinkle of gladness and a sharing of the joy of success, there is sometimes a veiled look of disappointment. I have often wondered, what is the answer that people expect? 
 
Arjun was a stockbroker. The share market was low and so was Arjun’s business and income. When Shyam met him and he asked Shyam, how things were, he expected to find consolation in someone else also having problems: to be consoled that he was not the only one in the dumps: to find that there were others having similar problems: that all businesses, and not just the share market, were in dire straits. 
 
This gave Arjun a sense of fellowship, of being comrades in arms fighting a common war against a common enemy. When Shyam told Arjun that business was so-so and could be much better, either being honest or empathetic, Arjun’s face brightened. He had found a kindred soul. He went on to tell Shyam about the problems in the share market and the share business, and how, in spite of this, he, Arjun, had managed to keep his head above water, while some others had sunk!
 
So, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” it could sometimes be that he wants to find someone who is doing as badly or maybe, worse.  This will then, perhaps, make him feel good.
 
There are the two different streams in the corporate world: Rajan is self-employed and Raju is a corporate executive. Each one has the nagging and persisting feeling of self-doubt, that the grass is ‘greener’ on the other side.
 
Invariably, when entrepreneur Rajan asks Raju, “How are things?”, Rajan feels happy when the response is, “Oh, just alright. There are a lot of problems at the moment.” Surely, there must be.
 
The entrepreneur probably has problems of working capital and the corporate executive has problems of getting on with his boss. So, they are really telling the truth and each feels happy that the grass is not greener on the other side, after all!
 
In fact, the more ‘brown’ he sees in the grass, the less envious he feels.
 
There are those like Raman, who work in family managed (FM) companies and others like Nikhil, who work in, what are euphemistically called, professionally managed (PM) companies. Each looks at the other with a certain envy. Those in the FM businesses have the advantage of paternalistic management, where they will be looked after through joys and sorrows, through marriages and major illnesses. They may not be as handsomely paid as their confreres in PM companies, but they are part of the “family”! 
 
Those like Nikhil in PM companies, have the advantage that they don’t have to kow-tow to the owner (because there is none). Never mind that some professional managers act as if 'they own the company'. 
 
A response of 'Extremely well' to the question, “How are you doing?” from any one to the other, may possibly only make the other unhappy and/ or envious.
 
There are others, the growing tribe, who come back to India, or are recruited by the giant trans-nationals at giant salaries. They are a breed apart and constitute another focus. They are in the ‘business class’ and are a source of envy for those in the ‘economy class.’ The latter like to believe that the MNC executive has to work himself to the bone, for long hours and with total job insecurity for the extra money that he is paid. 
 
And when he is asked, “How are you doing?”, it is comforting to hear, “It is just alright - a lot of work with many deadlines to keep.” 
 
The person asking is then pleased that life, for even the chosen few, is not a bed of roses. They, too, have their share of thorns. 
 
Most people we meet want to feel better because they know that others are in as bad a situation, if not worse, as they themselves. It gives them consolation that they are not the only ones to have major problems and worries. That many others—or at least most of their friends and acquaintances—have as much or more to worry about. 
 
There are exceptions, of course. There is the small number of people who exult and are joyous over the success of their acquaintances. They do not wish that their own sorrow be transferred or distributed equitably among all those they know and even those they don’t. These are people who are not petty; in fact, they are large-hearted, generous and wish others well!
 
Envy and jealousy kill those who sprout it more than those at the receiving end. If you believe that we are all products of nature and nurture and destined to live and die in our own special way—the gnawing of envy at our vitals can be considerably reduced. 
 
There is merit in the old Punjabi custom which I learnt for the first time from our area sales manager from Punjab. Suri had constructed a beautiful new house in Amritsar in 1971. 
 
“Mr Vieira,” he said, “You now have a new house, congratulations!” 
 
“Do I?” I asked, surprised. 
 
“Yes,” said Suri, “I have just completed the construction of a four-bedroom house in Amritsar. It is yours. Please feel free to come and be our guest, anytime you choose.” 
 
He had shared his good fortune and his joy. After such an open invitation—and a well-meant one—no one could be envious of Suri!
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are "Marketing in a Digital/Data World with Brian Almeida and "Customer Value Starvation can kill" with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
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