I have often wondered why Indians follow rules so obediently when they are in a (foreign) developed country whereas they flout every conceivable rule when in
For example, an Indian living in US ordinarily follows all the traffic rules there. He would give way to a pedestrian, yield when joining a major road, will not honk unless necessary, and will stick to the lanes. However, the same Indian would flout all the rules when in
What is it that makes an Indian behave so differently in different lands?
Many people have answered this saying ‘It’s the system’. What they mean is that in
Though such an answer seemed like quite a good explanation at the outset, I was not ready to buy it. I always felt there was something more to it than this simple and easy answer.
I found the answer to this when I went to
But during this recent trip to this area, I saw complete change in this behavior- there was utter and complete abandonment of rules! Stop Signs were completely ignored, horns were blaring, decent ladies did not yield to the pedestrians, and it was free-for-all as if it was a mini-India. What happened to this area in these last four years? What changed the situation so dramatically?
I would like to introduce a concept called ‘tipping point’ here. A tipping point is usually used to explain why certain epidemics spread quite dramatically once a certain critical number of people get infected by it, or how people react in a similar way all of a sudden resulting in crash of stock markets worldwide. A sustained chain reaction starts once a critical number is reached, called the tipping point. Below this critical number everything is under control. But once that critical point is crossed, the increase in penetration is no longer linear, but it is like an avalanche effect where there is no stopping- where it goes completely out of control.
In Edison of New Jersey, the concentration of Indians has been growing steadily for quite long, but of late, I believe, it has reached the ‘tipping point’. In this case it is the increase in the number of people-who-flout-the-rules above a critical point (the tipping point) beyond which it spread like an epidemic make it an all-prevailing situation. The Indians in this region celebrate this newfound freedom, which is a recreation of India-like atmosphere, and often regale in it with nostalgia. What is amazing is that while they flout rules in this area, they dramatically change their behavior once outside it, going back to being strict rule-followers.
Now, how did this happen? How do we see an island of non-adherence of rules in a nation of rule-followers? It is very important to understand how this phenomenon is working. The key to understanding this phenomenon is ‘how many flouters of the rules’ are there in a region at a given point of time. Because this is the understanding by which whole of
How many flouters-of-rules do you have?
The difference between
But once the number of people who are ready to flout the rules is more than X, then there is a deluge of incidents of non-violations and it suddenly becomes impractical to book every non-violation. This in turn encourages others to violate the rules because they believe they are getting behind while the offenders are getting ahead. This spirals into an avalanche effect and it spreads like an epidemic, completely out of control. This is what happens in countries like
So, I reason, that it is nothing to do with the system. It is everything to do with ‘how many violators are there in that population’ at a given point of time. And when it comes to Indians in
A friend who has lived in
The opposite effect
Let me discuss the opposite effect of this phenomenon using the same ‘tipping point’ concept but in the reverse direction. Many of these developed countries had experiences in the past of regions and places where laws were completely flouted. Even now, they witness certain situations where rules are indeed abandoned in localized and special cases. How does one start from a lawless society and then achieve a rule-following society?
Now, imagine another tipping point, Y, which is approached in the reverse direction. This is the critical number of rule-adherents (as opposite to rule-flouters). [Note: At a point of time there are few rule-flouters, few rule-adherents, and many non-committal ones whose mood is swung either way depending on the prevailing direction].
In a region, if the number of rule-adherents increases beyond Y, then there is a motivation to adhere to rules, because one stands out when he flouts rules, and seems to get noticed or punished. The incentive to abide by rules is now both moral and economic. Also, in the ensuing situation where such lawfulness is established, it seems to benefit everyone in the long run and therefore the continued interest to sustain it.
Why do I have hope?
Though I criticize
And I will tell you why I have the hope.
Wherever I go in
The fact that a line gets formed eventually when none existed before gives me hope that Indians, when given good examples, are ready to follow them. That gives me hope for
I believe that there is a tipping point for making this nation a better one. All it needs is few adherents, few rule-followers, few who are willing to stick to the line. It doesn’t need thousands, it only needs few people. If only those few people are willing to set examples, I believe that others are going to follow them, and once that gets started, it’s an avalanche effect of rule following in this country.
What difference does one man make?
People tell me, ‘What difference does it make when you are the only one NOT throwing trash on the road, thousands others continue to do it. Your actions are of no use.’
All I can do is set examples. I can’t stop someone throwing trash on the road or fo