51st Rajagiri Round Table-WORD’S WORTH
What distinguishes mankind from animals is the ability to express thoughts, views and opinion through diverse media. The advancement in technology has led to a situation where there is a breakdown of communication in families, between teachers and students at school and in society at large. In a democracy, divergent views have to be synergized for effective policy-making by the Government.
It was against this backdrop that the 51st Rajagiri Round Table (RRT) conference titled‘The State of Communication-Need for a New Dialogue and Discussion Culture’ was held. Special invitees for the 51st RRT were Dr. Jacob Chacko, Academician and Emeritus Professor of Marine Fisheries at CUSAT, Dr. Thomas Ranjit, Paediatrician and Neonatologist, CIMAR Cochin Hospital and K.S. Unnikrishnan, Certified Corporate Trainer and HR Consultant. The programme was moderated by Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran, Managing Editor of Pallikkutam Magazine. Excerpts from the discussion:
#Problems in Communication
According to Carl Rogers, the renowned clinical psychologist, the essential aspect of any adjustment is communication. If there is maladjustment, then there is a problem with communication, either conscious or subconscious. In schools and colleges, we have focused on the question as to how to improve speaking skills, but not as to how to perfect the art of listening. This leads to a situation when one person talks, the other person reacts and does not respond. There has to be an effort to understand what the other person is speaking about.
When communication takes place between teachers and students, parents and children or between friends, sufficient care should be taken that it does not get into an argument. In an argument, the effort is not to prove what is right, but who is right.There has to be responsibility in communication and it can come only through awareness.
Dr. P.R.Poduval, former Director of School of Management
Studies, CUSAT: "Most of human problems are created by communication.
The problem with the present TV discussions is that one person doesn't allow
the other to speak; indulging in character assassination (shifting the emphasis
from the topic to the person) and putting the blame on the other."
Geetha Jacob, Psychologist: There is a problem of lack of communication; not much patience is seen in the younger generation. There is no opportunity for the parent to express what he or she feels and for the children to communicate their feelings.
#Search for Truth
We are in the post-truth era where we have witnessed the disappearance of the shared objective standards for truth. Facts, opinions, beliefs, fantasies, half-truths are all passed off as truth. This is being used effectively by politicians and governments. Truth is relative and even in the field of science, truth is not easy to comprehend. Therefore, we create an operational definition for truth. For example, ‘ What is time’?
'Neeti' is the perceived truth and Nyaya is the outcome of all the perceived truths. Arjuna poses a question to Krishna in the battlefield in Mahabharatha. How can he remain happy after killing the near and dear ones to win the war? Krishna tells Arjuna that it is his duty and not to worry about the consequence. There is nothing wrong in performing one's duty. This is deontology or duty-based commitment that can be seen many times when children or those lower in authority are forced to do something without questioning or reasoning. In parent and child communication or teacher to student communication, it is often duty-based communication. It is your duty to do something or follow the orders and no explanations are given.
At the end of the war, Arjuna sees the widows crying and a
large number of people dead and children orphaned. Then the question comes
whether Krishna was right giving such an advice. In daily life, we are faced
with perceived truth on the one side and on the other, consequence of acting on
it- or the NeetiandNyaya. We have to make a compromise between
Dr Job Kuruvila,Academician,Epistemologist: "These days people are getting neither neetinor nyaya. When the High Court gives a ruling, Supreme Court overrules it. That is at the higher echelons. Think of the poor human souls like us. We are not having the kind of wisdom to differentiate between Neetiand Nyaya. Therefore, we go by duty as dictated by authority."
Dr Job Kuruvila: "When it comes to truth, no two persons can agree that this is the truth. It can be aetiology or politics or any aspect of life. If two people are agreeing, it means they haven't thought enough. If there is agreement, then that denotes lack of thinking."
#The Role of Fear
If there is a debate on nationalism or patriotism vs globalisation, you will be told that it is your duty to support our nation, but remember that Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore stood for globalisation. In matters related to national security, a fear is injected into our minds. No truth will enter a mind filled with fear and no rational thinking happens.
In an atmosphere of fear prevailing, people tend to conceal truth and try to express opinion that is palatable to the audience or authority. If the mind is contaminated by fear, no thinking process will take place. We also suffer from the fear of being evaluated by other people.
KL Mohana Varma, writer: In a human being with survival instinct, no action takes place without thinking of the result. Truth itself can be manipulated or changed. The young people are independent and not bogged by old philosophies in the epics and so they can think for themselves.
#Impact of Digital Technology/Social Media
Digital technology is often blamed for the breakdown of
communications, but most participants felt that we have to live with them and
ensure that it is used in such a way that we don’t become slaves of technology.Dialogue
is important because you have to interact with someone who has totally
different information than you have. Such a dialogue should take place either
directly or through social media itself.
Thomas George, Soft Skills Trainer: Reading habits have dropped drastically among younger people. The news that they see is fed by the social media or Google.The world view is being lost and big issues such as climate change or environment are not discussed. Discussions don’t happen in a world fully immersed in artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Sindhu Tharayil: “We should be worried about the lack
of emotional quotient in the modern systems of communication. There is tremendous
digital noise in our daily lives with billions of emails, texting platforms and
social media. But is that communication? The time spent on these platforms
brings negative results and it could be as dangerous as smoking and drug abuse.”
K.S. Unnikrishnan:“Next generation is keen on artificial intelligence.There is a huge opportunity for us in all these technologies. We must take advantage of them and use them for our communications, teach the children from a young age as to how to use it. Tomorrow there may not be any written words, but only voice.”
Dr. Thomas Ranjit: “We are not going back to bullock carts even if we have problems with the use of motor cars. How you tap technology in the right way, is important. The disadvantage with social media is that with the help of algorithms created by artificial intelligence,it shows only what you want to hear or read. It effectively shuts you off from alternative views. It is a binary situation that has evolved-either you are with us or against us. The challenge is to have a middle path and it is important for us to communicate what we want to rather than impose our ideas on others.”
#Influence of Family and School
Effective communication techniques are learnt by kids from home and it is important how parents communicate with children. Children are facing issues communicating with elders and this creates a communication gap. Communication is an ethos that binds families together. You learn the pros and cons of an issue by directly talking to parents.
Dr. Jacob Chacko: "There is absolutely no
communication at home.We used to have regular dinner table communication in our
childhood days. That is why we read in newspapers about several suicide stories
of teenagers and youngsters for reasons ranging from poor academic performance
to personal issues. Parents and children are all glued to smart phones and
gadgets thus creating obstacles for healthy communication. When was the last
time you had a dinner conversation at home? Please introspect.”
Thomas George:“For effective communication, teachers have to keep apart one hour to listen to children once a week;at home, the practice should be a ‘no’ to attending phone calls at meal table.“
Maani Jacob. M, Rajagiri Public School:People speak negatively about technology. Sometimes technology can help create a level playing field. It can remove the fears and prejudices that precede a discussion. There are services online that help you hide your identity. You can be in a discussion without preconceived notions about the other person. Then the talk is about the issue rather than the people involved in it.
Nia Susan Chaly, Rajagiri Public School: I would like to focus on how Communications enabled India to create history. The word ‘utterance’ in the Tryst With Destiny speech of Jawaharlal Nehru puts emphasis on communications. He realised minorities in the country need to have their voices heard in Parliament and therefore,he encouraged dialogue.
Anna Rose Pallivathukkal, BTech,RSET : It is important to initiate a dialogue and avoid misunderstanding in communication. Listening is of paramount importance.
Alhaan M.J., BTech, RSET: We must communicate not to reply but to understand. Everybody should have an opportunity to express their opinions.
Anushika Ajith, BTech, RSET: We must have an open mind when we involve in a discussion. Listening, understanding and responding create successful communication.
Diya Therasa Sunil, BTech, RSET: Verbal communication (phone talk) has shifted to texting or chatting and face-to-face communication has made way for screen-to-screen communications. Face to face communication involves understanding body language, the importance of eye contact, and understanding.
Alia Shiraz, BTech, RSET: Anonymity in social media makes people braveand bold while in real life they may not be. The anonymity is so powerful but it comes with great responsibility. It is important for our generation to understand the power that social media has given us.
Alwin Sanil, B.Tech, RSET: Communication has evolved over centuries and now we are in the digital era. We need new technologies to communicate and we message or text or social media as appropriate to the situation. The future is in AI and even with all the communication technologies we still have the control over them. Whatever technologies come and go, communication in some form or other will remain.
#Defining a New Communication Culture
Can we develop a model for a new communication culture? We have the Socratic model and the Doha model of debate. Participants felt that something innovative can be evolved in due course.
Dr Varghese Panthalookaran: It is time to redefine our communication culture. The RRT model has always been to synergize divergent views in a true spirit of consensus. Our search is for the truth and sustainable solutions can only come from truth. We have to have an innovative model that can be a role-model for others in debates and discussions.
1) Develop the Art of Listening in schools and colleges. Where there is no listening, there cannot be any understanding and therefore, no truth.
2) Understanding is the key to successful communication.
3) The focus of our debates should not be displaying competitive excellence but raising intellectual curiosity.
4) In personal communications and discussions, it is important to ensure that arguments are avoided. In an argument, the focus is not on what is right but who is right.
5)No truth or thinking will prevail in an atmosphere of
6)Fear comes from a total breakdown of communications at home or school or in communities.
7)School children should be trained to cope with the digital noise and distractions.
8) Good communication culture should be initiated at home. The democratic tradition of involving children in discussions and decision making should be tried.
Points to Ponder
1) To develop a communication culture, are we asking the appropriate questions in public discussions such as RRT than giving answers or solutions?
2) Do our discussions or debates foster intellectual curiosity?
(Reported by Sreekumar Raghavan)