Ethnography – Approach towards books and learning

Before few years, while I was new to Chennai that was the first coffee shop I have ever visited. I fell in love with that place instantly and then I made it a habit of meeting my friends at that place. When I turned into a self employed person, whenever I was given a chance to finalize the place of meeting by my vendors, clients, co-workers; I always choose this coffee shop. Thanks to social media websites, I got a chance to meet some youngsters who are very energetic and enthusiasm and they dream big. Once as we were working through a business plan for these people, the topic of reading books came up. The conversation eventually circled about the self help books and the effect of self help books on our lives. I have an opinion that these books cannot bring you any positive results whoever may the author, however may be the concept.  As I was from a small town in Deep South Tamil nadu, I always had the complex of inferior self due to the lack of English language practice.  I have tried from Koffmayor to Robin Sharma. Nobody could possibly help me navigate my problem. Then I came across a famous English Phrase HELP YOURSLF. That one liner changed my view of help and helplessness.

Swami Vivekananda have often mentioned “You cannot help others; you can help only yourself. All you can do is to serve others”. For me this is a very powerful statement. We may try and distinguish the difference between Serving and Helping. Serving means making all effort to extend the possible support to the other person, but ultimately it is the other person has to decide on taking the support. Helping is an act rather to see through that the support has been converted into desirable results.  So it is most likely that we can only serve others, because helping may not be possible as per the definitions above. So coming back to the self help book authors, what are they doing? They are sharing some insights that they think that helped them or they share few things which they learned out of experience. This is where the main Issue steps in. We while often reading a book or a text forget an important ingredient called ETHNOGRAPHY.  This Ethnography plays a vital role in a person’s capacity of understanding and interpreting a text or a book.

Before moving into the concept of Ethnography, let’s see another important thing that might help in correlating our reading to real life experience. Behavioral Scientist Daniel Kahneman in his new book “Think fast and slow” has shed breathtaking informations. He says, what we call memory is experience. But experience alone does not constitute memories. He divides memories into two entities such as experiencing self and remembering self. He says 80% of the memory is made of remembering self rather than experiencing self. So after reading a book, it is not the experience of the read book would be with you; but the remembered pages of the book. Ethnography plays a very vital role in this remembering part.  So the point is one should take the content from that book or text he reads and should try to make sense with accordance to one’s ethnography, then only an assimilating pattern of learning can happen.  As I am a behavioral trainer and a key note speaker in colleges, I always believed the old way of making audience learn. By telling fables, we can make audience engaging with the concept.  This parable from Sri Ramakrishna paramahamsa would be best suit to explain the concept of Ethnography.

Once Ramakrishna was sitting in a river bank under a tree and giving his valuable teachings to the students. A scorpion which was not able to see was finding very difficult to move around. It proceeded and it was about to fall into the river. Ramakrishna sensing that immediately pulled the scorpion away with his hand. In that process the scorpion stung him. Then again the scorpion was in a position of falling into the river, again Ramakrishna helped and it stung him once again. It happened for good five, six times. The students of Ramakrishna got irritated and confused and asked their master, why is he doing the same thing again and again knowing that it would sting him. Ramakrishna replied that stinging is the quality of the scorpion and serving is the quality of himself. If I say this parable to any foreigner or an urban brought up guy and if I ask him the moral of the story, he or she would say that one has to remain true to his quality. But if I say the same parable and ask this question to a sub-urban or a rural brought up person; he would raise a question. He would ask, if it is a bank of a river and if there was a tree, then surely there must be some leaves and sticks should be there on ground. Sri Ramakrishna, for the second time onwards if had used a stick or a leaf to save the scorpion, he would have still saved it without getting stings from it. So the moral of the story cannot be that, at least for this story. For them the moral of the story is a teacher should take maximum pain to imbibe a great thought in a student’s mind. This is what Ethnography does to your understanding.

So the self help book written by people, who are mostly westerners, can really have very less Impact on us living in a different land mass, leading a different life style and having a different food. Even the self help books by Uthayamoorthy and Mervin in Tamil, were merely a translations from the western authors. So help may it be big or small has to come from within us and unfortunately there is no catalyst to stimulate that. So let’s start to observe ourselves very keenly from today. Let’s find out what help can we do to ourselves and start doing it.

While it may be tempting to learn ethnography in your own way, you will often need a person who is not you to measure and initiate the journey of knowing your roots and your pattern of learning and unlearning. When you have read and researched about ethnography and when you need such help don’t hesitate to click the contact button to reach us. We are here to serve you.

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