Conversations with people not like us – is what the author Arun Maira wants to talk about in the book – Listening for Well-Being.
The book begins on a high note with an excellent example of listening being presented. The examples bring out the power of listening in changing perspectives, in building bridges with those on the other side of the argument. I was excited that this is going to be a great book to read. I believe all the mental illness issues are because we do not listen. Even in the corporate world a lot of issues can be resolved by creating an environment where people listen to each other. For the larger world issues, we need to listen to people who are not like us – they speak a different language, or follow a different religion, or have different customs. I have learned this in my travel blogging life.
However, as soon as the first chapter is over, the disappointment begins. The author is self-obsessed. His only conversations through the book with people not like him are precisely two 2-line conversations with his plumber and a passerby at his home in Mashorba in Shimla. He never forgets to tell you his neighbors include Priyanka Gandhi and the President of India during his summer holidays.
Arun Maira mentions few meetings that he handled during his stint as a member of Planning Commission of India. He thinks the heads of public and private organizations are different people. He has potentially never stepped out on the road. His life seems to revolve around conference rooms where his great effort in making people listen each other is by not sitting in the highest chair in the room. When he gets out of Lutyens Delhi you find him at World Economic Forum in Davos or any such high-level conference. He may be speaking at an event where only the whos who of the world society come. He comes across as someone who has no idea of the ground realities of India or the world.
When you read his so-called insights you shudder to think this was the person making plans for billion plus people in the world. No wonder planning commission was such a failure. In one of the chapters, he casually mentions that planning commission had no economic model in place. He admits that planning commission members primarily understood numbers. They had no idea how they manifest on the ground. The fact that average may not exist in reality seem to be oblivious to them.
Since I did not see that the words being preached by Arun Maira in this book are coming from the relevant experience to say them. They had no impact on me. In fact, Arun Maira comes across as someone who has hardly interacted with people who are not like him – the working class, the homemakers, the small town people or even the creative professionals.
Overall, I did not get the point Arun Maira is trying to make taking us from one golf course to another. The hypothesis that he started with was great. But he just got too sucked into talking about himself and his environment. For an average citizen – everything is very distant.
I wish he had some great stories to share on listening. I wish he had some relatable examples to share.
The language of the book is simple, but right out of Lutyens Delhi. For most of the people outside that region, everything in the book sounds alien.
You may buy this book – Listening for Well-Being Conversations with People Not Like Us by Arun Maira at Amazon.
I wonder if Dalai Lama or Ratan Tata actually read the book before endorsing it.