Hark, the trumpets blow!

Ministhy Dileep | June 27,2011 10:09 am IST

My friend's mother just called up. She wanted to tell me that her daughter ("She called me in her mobile just now, betiiiiii! Both she and her husband have mobiles, you know?") has been assigned to go to Minnesota for her software project.

And didn't I know, the GM insisted that she went to US, since "Beti, you know how sharp she is. Very technically inclined. She always used to tell me how you hated technical stuff! You not knowing even to change the bulb in spite of your B.Tech, haaaan?" Giggle, giggle conspiratorially.


And then after stopping for her breath, she told me that her daughter and her husband had called her up from their brand new Corsa on their way to their apartment in the city - "The mobile was very clear in spite of its speed, betiiiii. You see, since the apartment is in the twentieth floor, sometimes the connection doesn't come through. The state of our telecom infrastructure, sigh…."


After telling me that her granddaughter was into the exclusive school in Bombay ("Where there is NO homework!"), she also enquired politely into what I did when I was not sleeping and eating. And whether my kid was still sneezing. Not to mention the fact that she met my husband in the market. "He is still in India, is he betiiii - coming to think of it, what a help that he goes to buy fish. My son-in-law is always traveling to Singapore or Malaysia…. sigh…"


I tottered to my sofa after she called off. And counted the bruises delivered in a span of five minutes. How incredibly talented she was .To deliver the maximum information in the least possible time, if one ignored the sighs in between. Had she been younger, an MNC would have roped her in as a marketing executive. To sell lemon crushers and surf.


What an art this one was. Of blowing the trumpet loud and clear. Of all maestros of the instrument, I have never met someone with such mastery over the ragas as she had. (Having ignored the phoren friend who insisted on bringing his boiled water all the way from USA, of course. India being infested with cholera).


When the Wall Street Scam happened, something clicked in the old brain. This was Smt. Friends Mom (F.M for further broadcasting purposes) in her corporate self. Having been hooked into the practice of blowing her trumpet for the stakeholders, how on earth could she play a different tune? All of a sudden.


Of course, it is very forgivable to unknowingly misinterpret the accounting sheets and project profits instead of losses. Especially when dear daughter has just lost her job in the recession and the husband has started drinking. Who the heck will investigate that they traveled in the Ambassador (second-hand)? Certainly not this fuddy-duddy stakeholder. (Who doesn't even know why she has to be told all the details in the first place).


Leon Festinger*, has an answer to this phenomenon. He calls it "Cognitive Dissonance". Apparently, people invest too much emotionally, when they propogate an image, a viewpoint, a stance. Having invested that much, it causes terrible dissonance to shift stance all of a sudden. It's much better to lessen the shame by altering the facts to suit the interests. Even deny the facts altogether.


Many, in explaining the human side of the Share-Price Bubble and the Wall Street Scam, have pursued something similar to this line of thinking**. Why, the 2002 Economics Nobel went to a Psychologist for his theory on such human errors - Daniel Kahneman*** of Princeton University. He had as early as in 1974, put forth the idea that humans indulge in heuristic decision-making - with biases such as representative ness of information (how closely it resembles previous information), availability (in memory), adjustment (tendency to estimate high or low). Basically, he says, humans are irrational beings much taken in by the herd behavior. And they hate to look bad.


FM has spent too much on her phone bills to admit that she might be wrong. That all things are not hunky-dory for dear daughter, back in Bombay. But she, like the consultant cum auditor of Anderson, has too many personal interests in drawing back. The decisional biases aid the erratic thinking pattern-keep blowing the trumpet-maybe the sound will make it better. Spent some more on STD calls to wake up unsuspecting classmates. And talk of Minnesota.


I suddenly remember the saying, "If you don't blow your trumpet, someone will make a spittoon out of it." Right. I am taking out my rusty trumpet - the one from the old school band. I never knew that the sound had so much potential. Next time FM calls, I am going to blast my trumpet too. I will tell her that I am enjoying my weekly cup of tea. In wonderful company.


* Leon Festinger, Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, 1957. People strive for consonance and balance when their actions, thoughts or attitudes are not in balance. Like the fox who said 'The grapes are sour" to get rid of the dissonance of wanting something and failing to get it.
** Reference: The Economist, 'All too human", in Economic Focus section, Oct 12-18 2002, pg.76.
*** Tversky & Kahneman, ( 1974, 1982) - 2002 Nobel for merging crossroads of 'Economics and Psychology".



Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....