Does a safety net help?
While driving past Barton Center on MG Road, a few days ago ( yes, during the lock-down) I remembered an incident that happened while we were constructing it. We had to put up four trusses and have them connected in the middle, at a height of almost 210 feet from the ground. No one in Bangalore was prepared to do this work. Suddenly, my Chief Engineer, K thought of the Moplah craftsmen from the Northern part of Kerala. They are famous for ship building http://www.uppercrustindia.com/oldsite/17crust/seventeen/season7.htm . Most importantly they worked well with pulleys and at heights. When their contractor visited us he said that they hadn’t worked at this kind of height but it didn’t matter as working at 40 and 50 feet heights was as dangerous as being 200 feet up in the air.
We then insisted that they wear safety belts and that we have a safety net below. They refused to either wear belts or have a net. They said they were used to working with no hindrance and a belt and net would remind them of danger and hence curtail their ability to work with clarity and normality. We had no option but to agree and they did an amazing job. Watching them work was not good for those with weak hearts. (Do visit the building and see what they did.)
Now my point –
I have always debated with myself on whether I would have been better off if I had the safety net of a family inheritance to fall back on or whether I would have done better if I had a ‘leg up’ while working my way forward in my career. My personal view – no, it would not have helped me. Yes, it would have taken the edge of my daily worries on how to keep my family going but the key here is – ‘ It would have taken the edge off ‘. Without that edge and the fear that a setback could put my family and me in a mess, I may never have pushed myself to perform and continue to push myself post my 58th birthday, knowing that there is a long way for me before I can rest.
So, is it true that people without the Safety Net do better in their careers? I cannot tell, as it involves many factors. Look at Corporate Leaders such as Ratan Tata or Kumaramangalam Birla or the hero himself, Mukesh Ambani. They had Safety Nets but grew larger than the Safety Nets they had. However, my cousin’s husband in Chennai, LM, whose valuable words of wisdom have really helped me over the years, once told me – ” Look at a batch of students from a class. By the time you retire, the chances are that a very large percentage of them will not be as wealthy as the bottom lot, while studying together in school”. Can you relate to this? This is an extremely controversial matter but I see a lot of truth in it. Of course, as in anything in life, we cannot generalize, but more often than not, this adage is true.
What about the poor from birth? –
I believe the above works for them too. Now, I am walking into dangerous territory when I talk about the Dole or Unemployment benefits as a Safety Net. This has begun to happen in India, in some form or the other and I’m not too sure it has helped. This is a very difficult question to answer. My answer is – Give everyone an opportunity or the ability to find an opportunity and then let him or her do their best. We then may say that a welfare state needs us to look after it’s weak. I agree. The welfare state must carefully choose those it needs to look after.
Relate to the first para –
When the Moplah’s said they didn’t want the safety net or harness they meant that their focus would be blurred and the edge taken of if they had one eye on the net or the harness and not have both eyes on the job ahead. Now, there will be many who pan me saying safety requirements are a must in dangerous jobs but my point was not that – it was on what the craftsmen felt about being hampered.
I end –
by saying that, in my view, a Safety Net can be a double edged sword. While many have succeeded and built upon this advantage, more have succeeded because they did not have this net and the desperation to succeed or survive took away the fear of failure.
Finally, don’t do anything to prove anyone anything. Just do it for yourself.
( Please do let me have your views on this. It is a subject close to my heart)