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India – We are more similar than different

India wasn’t on my list of places that I have always wanted to go, but when I had the chance to go last month (twice – Chennai and Bangalore) to provide Leadership training for a large global company, I was happy for the opportunity.

I am embarrassed to say I was slightly worried about venturing out on my own on the streets, especially when I talked to some fellow Americans and Brits who had been there before.  Wow, some people really do come from a place of fear.  But, once I got there and met the people, I realized, I need not worry.  Now, I am sure there is crime and obviously, I wouldn’t walk down dark alleys by myself, but in general, I felt very safe.

Some of my most interesting observances:

  • A family of 5 on one motorcycle!
  • Four or 5 vehicles across 2 lanes of traffic at a time going very fast!
  • Shacks made of cardboard and tin next to very modern buildings
  • Trash everywhere
  • Beautiful colors
  • Smiling faces
  • Fresh food sold on the side of the road – sugar cane being juiced, watermelons, lemons for lemon water, corn, coconuts for coconut water

The differences in the socio-economic classes were observable.  The dress, the transportation used, and the way people behaved was distinct among classes.  Charles, the man who drove me around in Bangalore, had a family of 5 and earned the equivalent of $250 a month.  He was wonderful to talk to.  He told me all about Bangalore, the people, the city, India, politics, his family.  He seemed happy.  He also seemed interested in my life too. He even worked for 24 hours straight so that he could take me to the airport. The skeptical will say he was vying for a big tip and I say that is partly true, but we were also engaging in an enriching connection that didn’t dwell on status or class.  I don’t want to downplay the struggles that Charles probably has based on his limited resources and how easy my life is with a wealth of resources.

I’m getting ready to teach a diversity program next month and one of the main messages is that we are more similar than we are different.  We start with our similarities as the foundation and then emphasize how differences enrich our interactions. Charles and I are from different countries and different socio-economic classes, but we connected through sharing our rich, personal lives in a car driving through the streets of Bangalore.