The other day, the family and I were at a booking/ reservation office for river rafting. The person taking the reservations and serving as a guide to all questions related to the activity was seated behind an open table. There were some 3-4 people at the table, all belonging to the same group, transacting with him. They were getting their money out and understanding the when and where’s of the travel to be undertaken prior to reaching the actual rafting site. The way the table and the group were laid out, I was standing behind them, a little to the side, so the official could see me. I was patiently awaiting my turn to speak with the man about the rafting journey. Soon, another person arrived with his teenage kids. The girl sat in a chair that was facing out wards from the table, right in front of me and the man and his son, cut through in front of me, went and stood to the right of the table (to the left of the official) and began firing off questions about the rafting trip for their family. They were in a similar situation as myself, having just arrived at the location and wanted to understand the duration, the cost, any age restrictions that would apply, clothing, etc. The new arrivals simply did not care that there may have been another person (with his own child) standing in line already. He wanted to get his answers and get his family going on the trip asap and it did not matter if there were other people already waiting for their chance. He proceeded to ask all the questions that I was going to ask of the official. The official was happy to answer his questions, while multi-tasking with the other group that was still handing out the payment to him for their trip.
The episode reminded me of a podcast – The Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish. The guest in that episode was Kunal Shah. I did not know who Kunal Shah was until I listened to that podcast and later learnt that he was the founder of Freecharge and Cred, both of which are Indian companies that were innovative and did extremely well. In the case of Cred, it is still in the market and by all accounts is signing on customers and has introduced a very unique idea of credit card payments through a separate app. Anyway, the episode, which I highly recommend for absolutely fantastic insights into the Indian market, began with Kunal talking about the concept of Shame. He comes from a business community in India and spoke of how in that community, there is no shame. No shame in failure, no shame in doing any task that in other communities would be considered as beneath one’s standing and so on. They definitely are not wary of talking of money openly and gauge the value in everything. I was reminded of an instance many years ago, when I had the pleasure of attending a musical concert by a flautist of local reknown. This was an intimate setting with only about 20-30 people in the audience. Following the concert, the artists were mingling with the audience. There too, a few ladies from the same community did not bother with complimenting the flautist on his performance. Instead, the cut to the chase – what was his price for performing at a wedding? The artist took it in his stride and answered her and the group of ladies with her patiently. For me, it was a surprise because I had not thought of the price of a performance such as his – it was brilliant and I had enjoyed the music thoroughly.
In my upbringing, shame played an integral part. It was built into the fabric so much so that it forms a part of the sub-conscious mind. There is shame in cutting lines, there is shame in being upfront about money matters such as salary discussions with friends and family, there is shame in borrowing money from family/ friends or others within the community for beginning an enterprise that may fail and there is shame in starting an enterprise and failing. On the other hand, in the other community, there is no shame in all of those above matters and more. It is strangely liberating when one thinks of being free from the constraints of being ashamed. Being unashamed is to be bold and comfortable in one’s own skin. It is also about being open to failure in ways that have simply not even been considered. Fundamentally, it is about being brave and forging a community that is strong and supportive.
Ultimately, you have to look at achieving the goal that you have set out with. In my case, I waited until the man had asked all the questions that I wanted to ask of the rafting official, listening to the answers as well. I decided to be shameless as well and simply cut in with my own questions at a suitable point in the conversation. I received the responses that I needed to make our decision on proceeding or not and left the place.