Lindsay Pereira: Who are our icons?

Apr 14, 2018, 07:28 IST | Lindsay Pereira

We need to question the kind of people we place on pedestals, and ask why those who genuinely bring about change are always ignored

Greed comes naturally to us, because we're human. What shouldn't come so naturally is our desire to beat the system
Greed comes naturally to us, because we're human. What shouldn't come so naturally is our desire to beat the system

Lindsay PereiraI don't have a problem with CEOs or business leaders. One or two of them almost say something worthwhile during the course of their careers, but it still boggles the mind that they are the ones so many of us turn to for inspiration. We celebrate people who manage to take home staggering amounts of money for reasons that ought not to make sense, but do simply because we are taught to celebrate their salaries. This is what we, in turn, ask our children to emulate — men and women who earn enough to buy many homes in a country where one home is never guaranteed.

This sounds like a rant against capitalism, but it is really a rant against people we are compelled to look up to, simply because we have never been taught to idolise the right ones. This is why the many falls from grace that seem to occur every week should compel us to attempt a bit of introspection. In the first three months of 2018 alone, we were witness to cases of bank frauds that wiped millions off the books. This was followed by accusations of nepotism involving people who had long been on the covers of magazines, praised for their ability to raise more money for banks, and paid for playing with money that didn't belong to them.

We tend to diminish the accomplishments of people who don't create things of material value, which is why environmentalists fighting to save our green cover, activists fighting to save our public spaces and whistleblowers showing us how disgusting our politicians really are, never find the kind of publicity reserved for Bollywood stars and cricketers. We ask our children to try and be more like people who contribute little to society, confusing their net worth with what they actually do to make our country a better place.

Earlier this week, a man was arrested for floating several companies marketing the concept of cryptocurrencies. He had reportedly convinced people that money was to be made, offering 200 per cent returns on investment, and initiating a multi-level marketing scheme that ran like clockwork simply because he recognised that greed could power the system for years. It wasn't what he did that shocked me, of course, because we like to think of it as a birthright that loopholes are meant to be exploited; it's how he managed to lure so many people with ease that made me pause for thought.

Greed comes naturally to us, because we're human. What shouldn't come so naturally is our desire to beat the system. Consider how millions of our countrymen start at school, faking certificates to claim quotas, bribing government officials for seats, paying agents for leaks of question papers. They do this not simply because corruption is endemic, but because they recognise that people who cheat aren't necessarily reviled in our culture. Ministers who start from one-room kitchens and end up with businesses worth thousands of crores are respected, their assets declared as badges of honour. Businessmen who run away after defrauding banks and cheating employees are reduced to trending topics, their bank statements treated with respect, their criminal activities brushed off because so many of us applaud their nonchalance.

None of the men and women who have been accused of staggering financial crimes ever face any serious damage to their reputations. They understand, like the rest of us, that the law will take forever to catch up to them. They know, like the rest of us, that beating the system is nothing to be ashamed of in a country where parents encourage their children to earn more, not do more.

The saddest thing about business leaders on the front pages of magazines is the wrong kind of example they set for our children. We raise them for rat races and appraisals, high marks and bonuses, forgetting to tell them about the other kind of Indians who earn little, own little, but do the kind of things we should genuinely be proud about.

More businessmen, politicians and creators of wealth will be named and shamed in the coming months, because that is the norm in our country. To be corrupt comes naturally to us, which is why little changes. What will you tell your son or daughter about the next CEO who bites the dust?

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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