FF Daily #399: Why fiction matters

June 16, 2021: Learnings from the struggle for gay rights; The bureaucrat and the politician; [Song] We Shall Overcome

Founding Fuel

[Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay]

Good morning,

Last week, the author Kiran Manral wondered aloud on Twitter, “Why is nonfiction considered more important than fiction?” She was concerned about why many people think reading fiction is a waste of time. Manral is right. The thing about fiction is that the best works can transport the reader to places that can only be imagined. Consider this passage from Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, a thriller set against the background of the Ottoman Empire. One of the protagonists is a murderer. How are we to know what he is thinking? Unless writers such as Pamuk can imagine it. And to do that, they work hard.      

“I would’ve preferred to resolve this unexpected and awful dilemma without having to do away with anybody, but I knew there was no other choice. I handled the matter then and there, assuming the burden of responsibility. I couldn’t let the false accusations of one foolhardy man endanger the entire society of miniaturists.

“Nevertheless, being a murderer takes some getting used to. I can’t stand being at home, so I head out to the street. I can’t stand my street, so I walk on to another, and then another. As I stare at people’s faces, I realize that many of them believe they’re innocent because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to snuff out a life. It’s hard to believe that most men are more moral or better than me simply on account of some minor twist of fate. At most, they wear somewhat stupider expressions because they haven’t yet killed, and like all fools, they appear to have good intentions. After I took care of that pathetic man, wandering the streets of Istanbul for four days was enough to confirm that everyone with a gleam of cleverness in his eye and the shadow of his soul cast across his face was a hidden assassin. Only imbeciles are innocent.

“Tonight, for example, while warming up with a steaming coffee at the coffeehouse located in the back streets of the slave market, gazing at the sketch of a dog hanging on the back wall… Then, I had the sensation that one of the men beside me was a common murderer like myself. Though he was simply laughing at the storyteller as I was, my intuition was sparked, either by the way his arm rested near mine or by the way he restlessly rapped his fingers on his cup. I’m not sure how I knew, but I suddenly turned and looked him directly in the eye. He gave a start and his face contorted… During my walks, which grow increasingly longer due to my restlessness, I come face-to-face occasionally with one of our most pure and innocent religious countrymen, and a strange notion suddenly enters my head: If I think about the fact that I’m a murderer, the man before me will read it on my face. Therefore, I force myself to think of different things.”

Stay safe and have a good day! 

In this issue

  • Learnings from the struggle for gay rights 
  • The bureaucrat and the politician
  • [Song] We Shall Overcome

Learnings from the struggle for gay rights

How and why inclusion and diversity helps societies and firms is now well documented by various studies. But when it comes to embracing and implementing it, the data is opaque. This is why June is special. This has a long history that goes back to the time when the police frequently targeted bars and cafes that the LGBTQ+ community frequented in North America. That started to change when for the first time on June 28, 1969, patrons at Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted a raid. They were tear gassed. But it snowballed and the movement gained momentum. Years later, under Bill Clinton, in June 2000, a Presidential decree was signed designating the month as Pride Month.  

What learnings have emerged from the community’s struggle? That’s the theme Aparajita (Opu) Bhattacharyya examines in her most recent instalment of Hustle Fuel.   

“Most high-achieving minorities do not want to be known for being a ‘successful minority’, but rather just be acknowledged for doing good work.”

“Some LGBTQ+ people face the painful experience of being misgendered, or referred to by a pronoun that does not accord with their gender identity,” she writes. 

“As an ally, one can avoid (oftentimes unthinking) microaggressions by being careful not to make assumptions about people’s personal lives or risk misgendering them. I went to a very liberal women’s college for undergrad, where being ‘out’ was very ‘in’. Over those four years, I learnt that at the most basic level, this means not automatically asking women about husbands or boyfriends, and men about wives or girlfriends but instead, using terms such as ‘friend’, ‘spouse’, or ‘partner’. Asking for and then using the pronouns that each individual uses to self-identify is another simple mechanism to self-correct. 

“But even beyond reducing microaggressions towards the LGBTQ+ community, pausing and reflecting on microaggressions towards others can go a long way in driving inclusion. Even other minorities face these microaggressions in different shapes and forms.”

Dig deeper

The bureaucrat and the politician

What exactly should be the relationship between a bureaucrat and a politician? This has been one of the recurring subjects of debates over the years, and it has intensified in the recent past. In a Hindustan Times column, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former IAS officer himself (and also the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi), shares some insightful anecdotes from the past that will help us think through the question today. 

He writes: “The Constitution of India is the product of much deliberation, many perspectives. Patel, in charge as he was of the services, spoke for two articles of the draft Constitution affecting the services. The first of these was Article 311. That formulation protected officials from arbitrary punishment by their political bosses.

“Now, Patel, like many of the members of the Constituent Assembly, was a stalwart of the freedom struggle. As such, his stature was peerless. He had known what it meant to be jailed and be treated with harshness by big and small officials. To give it back to officialdom would have been natural in a lesser ‘first home minister of free India’. But Patel was Patel. There was to be no vendetta.

“On the contrary, there was to be trust. More, there was to be respect. Respect for the civilian’s opinion, criticism. ‘Today,’ the Sardar said in the assembly, ‘my Secretary can write a note opposed to my views. I have given that freedom to all my Secretaries. I have told them: ‘If you do not give me your honest opinion, then please you had better go’.’

“And he said in the course of the same speech to critics of the new guarantees that he was introducing under Article 314 for civil servants: ‘If you… decide not to have this Service, I will take the Service with me and go. They will earn their living. They are capable people… Do not take a lathi and say: ‘We are a supreme Parliament’.’”

Dig deeper

Still curious?

[Song] We Shall Overcome

When Joan Baez started to sign We Shall Overcome it went on to become the anthem of those fighting for Civil Rights in the US during the sixties.

What’s helping you get through these tough times? Send us the song, poem, quote that is your balm now. And we will share it through this newsletter.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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