Something We All Agree On: An Educated World is a Better Place
Whether we are looking at climate change, whether we are looking at AIDS, whether we are looking at war and conflict, the stem of it comes into making sure that people are educated.
Vikas became the Varkey GEMS Foundation’s first CEO in September 2010 and currently serves on a number of global education panels. These include the Girls & Female education panel; the Teachers Task Force; and the Global Alliance of Corporate Partners for Education – all for UNESCO. He also led the development of the Global Education and Skills Forum and was selected as a ‘Young Global Leader’ by the World Economic Forum in 2013.
Previously, Vikas was the Managing Director of a corporate affairs & communications consultancy business in London. Prior to this, he established the directorate of an independent parliamentary group in the British Houses of Parliament. He also serves as Group Head of Corporate Affairs at GEMS Education.
As part of his commitment to charities, Vikas is associated with several mainstream causes and has advised & raised substantial funds for several groups and good causes. He is also a member of the founding team of a social action day, which seeks to promote volunteering & public service.
Vikas is the author of ‘India Inc: How India’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs Are Winning Globally’ . He is often asked to provide his commentary and insight into Indian business and political matters to the media. He writes a blog on globalization and India, and appears regularly on CNN, BBC News, BBC World TV and Al-Jazeera. He has commented in the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Observer, and The Independent on Sunday on issues ranging from the contentious subject of off-shoring and outsourcing, the impact of the Indian Elections on economic reforms, terrorist attacks such as those experienced in Mumbai in 2008 to the impact of David Cameron’s first Prime Ministerial visit to India.
In his book ‘India Inc: How India’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs Are Winning Globally‘, Vikas narrates the phenomenal journey’s of ten Indian entrepreneurs, many of whom have gone from being garage start ups to achieving stunning global success in their lifetimes. Through his book, he provides examples of how Indian entrepreneurs are taking on and beating their global competitors in their own back yards and argues that Indian sensibilities will increasingly shape business debates around the world.
He has advised some of the world’s leading firms that have invested billions of dollars in India. In addition to briefing CEOs, Ministers, Parliamentarians, and senior journalists on breaking developments in South Asia, he has taken part in discussions; authored submissions to influential Parliamentary Select Committees, and has delivered speeches to think tanks and the Trades Union Congress on critical subjects like the off-shoring and the globalisation of services.
Pota’s been recognised by substantive persons such as S. A. Hasan, Director of Tata Ltd ‘few stand out as influential or as passionate as Vikas Pota, in providing a fresh, new perspective to the subject of India Inc. going global.’ James Caan of BBC programme Dragons Den says Pota provides ‘An insightful and thought-provoking look’. He lives with his family in London, UK.
I care a lot about education because I'm the product of education. My parents sacrificed a lot to give me this education. And as a result, I've seen numerous opportunities personally. So when I travel around the world, I think in terms of the kids that I see in the slums of Kenya or in Ghana or in Nigeria or India for that fact, and you think "Okay how is that that we can make sure that these children have the best possible opportunity to do well in life?"
So there are interventions that actually make a lot of sense in these communities that are happening. And I think these innovative solutions should be spoken about a lot more because the situation in India's slums is no different to that favelas in Brazil, and a lot can be learned as a result of that. So the personal connection is quite simply that I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I've had the opportunity to go to university and get on the career ladder and make the most of my working life, and that's resulted in progress for my family as a whole.
That situation I'm sure is similar for many, many, many millions of people around the world. And in fact, when it comes education, most people get it. It's not a hard sell. Education is important and it's the one area that I would encourage everyone to get engaged in, because you look at all these global issues that exist, the world can be a much better place with an educated population.
So whether we are looking at climate change, whether we are looking at AIDS, whether we are looking at war and conflict, the stem of it comes into making sure that people are educated.
And by that I mean read and write and understand and, you know, have an opinion on things, which I think it needs to be more sophisticated to make sure that we overcome these challenges that humanity faces.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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