Business Times

Shift in the paradigm of thinking – A need of the time

By Janitha Chirath Senevirathna

Let me take a classic example to start this chapter. “You have to do this work…” Your boss commands… Randomly would a subordinate ask from his/her superior why should I do this? This is the way an ordinary Sri Lankan person is accustomed to think. To be more precise the ordinary Sri Lankan person is not inquisitive or analytical to the extent he or she is required to be. This has led to numerous problems in the context of work life in Sri Lanka and has become a major reason for a number of drawbacks in the social and office life of Sri Lankans.

The student is inculcated to accept whatever the teachings of the teacher without too much rational thought being applied. - File photo shows students at a lecture

Ordinary Sri Lankans have a mindset or he has been inculcated as if from his very childhood; that his superior knows everything. This has become a major obstacle in the office life of Sri Lankans and has become a stumbling block for their work life growth and at the end of the day for the economic growth of the country. At the school, the teacher is supposed to know everything. This is the attitude of most of the school teachers in Sri Lanka. They are arrogant enough not to bend and accept what the student knows and what he or she (the teacher) doesn’t know. Even though this might help in improving the personality of school teachers, this does not help in opening up the analytical part of the brain of the student. The student is inculcated to accept whatever the teachings of the teacher without too much rational thought being applied. This typical situation is then carried forward to the work place when that student becomes the subordinate in an office. They are not inquisitive to the extent they have to be.

Therefore they don’t learn the methodology in an office but only blindly follow the instructions of the superior. Questioning the instructions made would be even considered as an offence in some office environments. Adding insult to the injury is the situation in the universities where the output of the school is processed to suit the conditions in the work environment. University culture is such that the lecturers are considered as Gods in the arena of higher education and they decide everything with respect to the academic achievements of a university student. Whether they take a first class or a general pass is virtually in their hands since the results of a single subject can take the overall degree result of a student from the positive extreme to the negative extreme. No judgment as to the marks offered since no one can apply for “re-corrections”.

The danger again lies here. The student is directly influenced to worship the lecturers if they are to get outstanding degree results. Those who do not will be marginalized putting forward numerous other reasons not related to the academic performance of the student. What really happens in the university is that the student is further encouraged to carry forward the culture that they typically practiced in the school in a stronger form. This is how the output of the school is processed. They blindly learn. Do not think openly and do not learn rationally.

The outcome of this thinking paradigm is pathetic in every aspect. An apparent passive consequence of this is the “Social Circles” which surround the society. There is a superior class, a middle class and an inferior class. One cannot argue the fact that these classes once established in a society are very hard to remove. India is a classic example of a country which continuously suffers from the caste based segregation in the society which was established long ago due the wrong and primitive way of thinking of the Indian society.

This has now become a fifth stage social cancer in India. But in Sri Lanka, there is sufficient opportunity available for a shift in the paradigm. Post colonial thinking pattern is still having a massive influence on the Sri Lankan way of thinking.

The trend is developing towards a more patriotic thinking pattern. Sri Lankans are, by nature, intelligent enough to capture what is right once that is rationalized. They are more educated than any of those in the South Asian nations. Therefore the political regime should start a new war against the pre explained traditional thinking. The education system should be reformed and that is the ideal place to start injecting the new paradigm of thinking. Fear and excitement over questioning and inquisitive thinking should be removed and inquisitiveness should be identified as an admirable characteristic of a person. Society should be taught how to segregate between obedience and analytical thinking. These are two different characteristics of a person and if a person questions as to why he is performing a particular task than doing it in a different way, that should never be identified as disobedience and discouraged. It should be identified as analytical thinking and encouraged.

A cultural shift should follow the shift in the thinking paradigm. Culture should move from a knowledge accumulating culture towards a Knowledge Sharing culture. Foundation of knowledge sharing is freedom and independence resulting from inquisitiveness. If the boss is lenient enough to learn something that he does not know from a junior, the junior gets an opportunity to share his knowledge with the boss. Then the boss being at the centre of the hierarchy can spread his new learning outcome throughout the office benefiting many. If the boss was not flexible, the possible social welfare arising from such would have become difficult to achieve. Therefore let us all hope and pray for a better future where analytical thinkers rule the work life.

(The writer is currently employed at PricewaterhouseCoopers (UK affiliated Sri Lankan firm and has won four prizes in the Chartered Accountancy professional programme).

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