Thursday, February 2, 2023

A connected world

The word, ‘contact’, when used in a particular context, has a distasteful connotation. Nevertheless, many people envy those who enjoy a reputation of having useful ‘contacts’ in important places. These contacts are used to one’s advantage whenever the need arises. I have observed people dexterously and single-mindedly establishing and cultivating contacts for future referrals. But I think that I would be rather upset if I knew that people were socializing with me with the sole intention of getting me to put in a good word for them or their candidates in the right quarters.
Another loaded term is ‘source’ — meant not as origin but as an individual who can help you to get something you want. I suspect that this usage is peculiar to Indians. The following is an example of how this word is used: “He has a source who can get your niece a seat in that institution”. Somehow, the term strikes me as unsavoury.
A third term, related to the word, contacts, is connections. In my mind, it is a good and solid word because it implies deep-rooted relations and mutual support unlike the term, contacts, or the shady word, source. It really is wonderful to be connected — to people, to nature and to oneself.
Associated with the term, connections, is the concept of ‘networking’. The practice of networking yields a web of relations among your kind. Four types of computer networking I learned about are LAN, PAN, MAN and WAN and I used to wonder whether these types of networks could be applied to people as well. Teachers, doctors, lawyers and business people actually network in similar ways: locally, in personal areas, in metropolitan cities and in the ‘wide world’ area. They network efficiently and effectively to their mutual benefit, learning from one another, sharing resources and exchanging ideas. This interaction is, of course, greatly facilitated by information and communication technology and by various virtual platforms. Incidentally, networking helped me recently in a curious way. A couple of months ago, I mentioned to a friend, a school principal in Mumbai, that our school required a Psychology teacher urgently, and it was pretty much networking that produced one for us in Calcutta. My friend’s colleague had a huge WhatsApp community of Psychology teachers and she posted my requirement on this group. Within days, I found a young Psychology teacher. Young people in the West are taught how to network in a structured way. They are encouraged to reach out to people they may not have met but had heard of. I suppose the ‘old school tie’ represents a form of networking, but you don’t have to belong to an exclusive club or a particular association in order to network. LinkedIn represents a formal way of networking among professionals on social media.
Among the different connections people have, one worth reflecting on, is an inter-generational connection. While some young people are actually parented by their grandparents most of them believe that their grandparents enrich their lives in untold ways. They savour a lost age through them and joyfully dig into their treasure of experience. Others learn to be empathetic with the aged and some of the accompanying features of old age, such as Parkinson’s disease, Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. At the other end of the scale is the connection with younger people. My students say, that as annoying as their younger siblings are at times, they value their interaction with a younger age group. They are right, such connections are mutually rewarding.
“Being connected” means much more than being active on Facebook. Connecting with other cultures, minorities and different racial or ethnic groups is vital for peace and integrity. This is sorely missing in society at large. The world continues to witness flashes of hostility which in turn invite the intervention of the big powers who rarely have the same worldview nor do they see eye to eye on strategy. Then there is the looming danger of climate change. It is imperative for world powers to get together to prepare for this common threat. But even in the face of an almost existential crisis, nations are unable to unite. Increasingly and urgently, we need a connected world.
Devi Kar is director,
Modern High School for Girls, Calcutta
(As published in
The Telegraph Online)

SourceDevi Kar
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