Think Out of the Box – N. Thomas Kamei, HOD, Economics


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Society is constituted by various institutions and systems. These systems go on to frame the kinds of values, principles, beliefs, and mores a given society adheres to. These get passed on from generation to generation further consolidating their legitimacy to which the society must conform. However, ever so often, with changing societal circumstances, a need arises to re-evaluate the existing system to meet the needs of the present day, rather than a blind conformism for a fear of change. Every society must in due time tackle this question of changing or adhering to a given system.

                                                        Think Out of the Box

I am reminded of a story I heard as a small boy. The story goes like this: Once, there was a head monk in a small town in China. He was revered by his followers for his wisdom. The wise monk had a cat as his pet. The cat was restless and would run around the monastery. Every day, in the evening, when it was time for prayer, the cat was bound to a pillar so that it wouldn’t disturb the prayer sessions. This became a regular practice. The monk became old and died, so did the cat. The monk followers bought another cat. Every day, they bound the cat to the same pillar when it was prayer time in the evening. One cat after another came and went, with the monastery continuing the same practice. I wonder if it is the same even today.
There can be different interpretations of the same story. However, it is true that different practices, institutions, and systems are established at different times to suit the requirements of that time. It is also true that many of us follow this without questioning the roots, the validity, and about their impact in our lives. Some of us are so conditioned in our mindset that we tend to think what is established is best for us. We thrive because of the system and perish because of the system. We often forget how and why the system was established.

The society we live in has many established laws and customs, systems and practices: educational systems, administrative systems, religious practices, and customary laws and practices. In all of these, everything is not what is the best for us.  We cannot say we have the best educational system because there are many defects as pointed out by many writers on the system. Defects such as one size fits all system hampering the creativity of an individual and its continual reliance on outdated syllabus. Likewise, we can detect many defects in other systems as well. Taking another example of religious practices existing among us: many of us feel a huge donation to the church results in abundant blessings; we are not made to think that the same kind of donation to the government will result in abundant blessings as well. No wonder, palatial churches are surrounded by dilapidated houses in our towns and villages.  My endeavor here is not about focusing on these defects. Rather, on the way, we are made to think that going against the system is always wrong. Perhaps, we’re imbibed to this line of thinking from our forefathers. And our forefathers were influenced by the existing systems of their time and we are cocooned in this mindset. It is difficult to come out of the web with an innovative idea, beneficial for all because we are conditioned not to do so. A ‘state of mind’ seems to have been established.  A writer, in one of the local dailies, wrote in the editorial: “there was even a time when people would smirk at a Naga girl attaining higher education”. Does the system in our society make us think that higher education is only for the boys? Times have changed, people have changed, and it is time to change our way of thinking too. Time has come to learn to respect ideas and opinion of others. Time also requires not forcing one’s idea and opinion on others just because we are in a position to do so. Time has come to do away with irrelevant established systems in our society. Certainly, this calls for a rational evaluation of different systems in our society so as to usher in an evolving, progressive, and dynamic one.

To buttress my point, let me take the example of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) led by Mr. Arvind Kejriwal (I am neutral to political parties). The party came with a bang in 2012 with prominent leaders like Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, and Ashok Agarwal, etc. with a lofty slogan of bringing change in the political scenario of the country. The party’s fight against corruption and unconventional way of conducting daily business by Arvind Kejriwal led to a landslide victory in Delhi in February of 2015, inspite of the in-fighting within the parties. The defeat in the latest election suggests a different story. When the fight for change in a system is for narrow and temporary gains, it is going to end up in a fizzle. To go against the system, we must be on the other side of the river.

It must be pointed out that not all systems are defective. It is also true that every problem in the society is not a by-product of that system. It can be an aberration of a system. In my opinion, we cannot blame the system for everything. It can also be true that not everyone who goes against the system is always right. The right idea at the wrong time can be a failure. In the same manner, every Tom, Dick and Harry cannot be a leader. Every organization, lobby group, and party cannot take the whole society into a ransom in the name of bringing change. Those movements, which are not well planned, well thought, bring more chaos and confusion than what’s needed. In my opinion, changes in established norms must be inclusive. The success of such changes should be judged by its relevance and it should maximize benefits.

Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Anjan K Behera, Tatongkala Pongen, Nungchim Christopher, and Kvulo Lorin. Portrait photographer: Rhilo Mero. For feedback or comments please email:

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