A Practical Guide to Being Intolerant

During my day job, I meet a lot of people from different backgrounds. Most people have no problem being intolerant to others. Those who are not intolerant find it difficult to get along with others. Here is a guide for those, who want to be a part of the in-group.


There are some safety precautions you must follow lest you become tolerant. Foremost is to not think and reflect. Be lazy when you can. It always works like a charm. The second precaution is to always perpetuate stereotypes. They are there for a reason.

Technique 1: The funny ethnic joke

A recent dialogue between one of the participants at a training session:

Participant: “Sir, I want to tell you a joke.”

Me: “Please, go ahead.”

Participant: “Sir, when was Pakistan founded.”

Me: “1947”

Participant: “No”

Me: “How is that?”

Participant: “Sir, it came into being in 1940. It took them 7 years to decide who would keep Sikhs and who, Pashtuns.”

It’s such a convenient and lazy way to make others laugh. When short of humorous material, google ethnic jokes and voila!

Technique 2: The hell-bound fashionista

Overheard at malls and other public places is this oft-repeated sentiment that those who follow fashion and wear lots of make-up will end up in hell. Hidden in this statement is the assumption that modern looking people have shaky morals and they can sell their soul to the devil to buy a new branded shirt. Maybe they do! Branded shirts are expensive.

You can also add to this category the close-minded fundo, who is made fun of because of, yes, you are right, their physical appearance.

Technique 3: The ungrateful South Walay

Experienced again at a training session, when I told the participants the story of how treating my past as a burden always put me down, a participant said, “Sorry sir, South Walay hamaisha inferiority complex mein rehtay hain.” He added further, “Sir, I come from a village up North, but I am proud of my roots.” The point I was trying to make was completely lost and it became about the feud between North and South. Embellishing this technique even further is the honorable mention of the “Arrogant Central Punjab Walay.”

Technique 4: Burgers

The English-speaking crowd sits in their echo chambers and cannot empathize with the common man. They only eat at fancy restaurants and are a danger to the ideology of Pakistan. You could also add the ‘pan eating Karachi walay’ and ‘un-couth Punjabis’ to this category.

Technique 5: You are my ‘Nigga’

Not as pervasive as others, this technique also conveniently trivializes the history and travails of an entire race. Boys and girls who have just hit adolescence, find the most fun in it. It’s endearing how they use this word and there is even WhatsApp groups called “My Nigga’’ that have special friends on them.   

Technique 6: You are stupid for following PPP/PML/PTI/MQM

The most famous technique to be intolerant in Pakistan is to make ‘funny’ jokes on everyone other than your own favorite politicians. All of them are corrupt and they could not care less of their people. They deserve to be chastised till they don’t because that politician just joined your favorite political party from the rival camp.

Bonus Material

If you are bored with using the above, here is a much simpler technique: just look for how ‘different’ the other is from you. There is always physical features, dress, language and family backgrounds to make fun of.

Leader’s Toolkit

For too long, and rightly so, we have been ‘hooked’ to the ambient theories of motivation. Trying to understand the human psyche, aligning management tools to individual and group needs and make people work to get more out of each dollar, has been and is the cornerstone of research and study by social scientists and psychologists.

One such great thinker was Abraham Maslow who had a profound impact on how management was and is shaped. An American psychologist, Maslow was best known for creating the hierarchy of needs expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms.” The five rungs of Maslow’s ladder are still taught at most universities; millenials are well aware of it, and organizations formulate their reward and recognition policies around it.

Times through these ages has repeatedly demonstrated that those who make it into history books and whose stories are told as inspirational legacies are ones who did not traverse the hierarchy of needs. They by-passed them and reached the top. The story of their journey begins in the last rung of actualization. That’s where the action happens. Prior to this, life’s rituals are around existence and survival; conditions that are not the prescription for human excellence. Think of the Nobel Prize winners; great musicians and painters; inventors and architects; nation-builders and astronomers; social workers and historians – spending decades of their life looking for that one molecule; an economic theory; a musical note that moves the soul; in quest of material to build; life in deep space; serving the ill and burying the dead – what makes them do what they do? Such tenacity, endurance and persistence is not the stuff of survival. There is more to life than filling the belly and a roof over the head. Human struggle is capable of by-passing these menial low-life form activities and launching straight into the rung of self-actualization.

Even in these travails, self-actualization is not the driving force; it is the unforeseen consequence. What is it that makes us capable of navigating past the bodily, safety, psychological and esteem needs to live a life of perpetual contribution?

Upon intense closer reflection, deep inside the last rung of self-actualization, there is another journey. This is one way of how it can be expressed:

leaders toolkit

Pride in what you do lends a firm and robust identity constituted by an unshakable ideology. This pride is augmented by a sense of service, prayer and faith. It is a spiritual experience that fills the belly, intrigues the mind and corroborates the heart. People/societies without an identity are too busy finding one; looking around to compare their own with others, falling into the trap of arrogance if theirs is better, or inferiority complexes, if worse. There is no anchor in such mental quandaries for intelligence to begin its search into the unfamiliar.

What you have pride in, you will care for. This care is ‘respect’ – the ability to repeatedly ‘see’ from the other’s perspective. There is empathy for another and kindness for the environment and resources. This state gives dignity, self-value; beyond mere self-esteem. Without this ability to ‘see’, one is stuck in self-serving traditions.

Empowerment is to recognize one’s power to think, feel and do. With the immense faith imbibed by the previous two stages, this power has to be used, resulting in a heightened state of trust – that molecule has to be studied; this music note says it all; galaxies, million light years away, must be investigated. The enormous trust in oneself is realized and trust in others (people and matter) becomes normal. Without trust, the individual is ensnared in a victim mentality.

The lens of trust makes the eye seek and unravel the unseen. Such a mind enters its veiled realms and creates, designs, scripts and formulates the new, the unknown, the fresh dimension leading to growth in character and progress. Looking at and living in the past is the reality of those not having arrived here.

The individual arrives at the locus of inspiration – everything and every moment is wonder-ful. Being awestruck becomes the natural condition that drives the order. Time and space become immaterial, resulting in tremendous contribution to uplift and unfold the mysteries that are ours to discern.

Pain and pleasure are the proclaimed motivators. Whatever we do is supposed to be guided by our instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This P&P principle drives us at both levels – the physical and the spiritual. The outcomes are different. The physical levels are the same as of animals, and remain the motivations of survival. The spiritual P&Ps are the human reality burgeoning what religion, philosophy, mysticism, aesthetics, ethics and morality prescribes for us to be.

A Whole New Ball Game

Our future is like a blank canvas that invites our masterstrokes of imagination. Problems remain problems until such time that we decide to solve them. It is our decision to solve a particular set of problems that turns them into a challenge. Most managers seek recognition and reward for what they have accomplished. And this is only natural. However, is it not the challenges they set out to overcome in the first place that truly merit our admiration? There is no dearth of problems at work and in society. Our stature in business and in life is directly proportionate to the challenges we choose to overcome. If it wasn’t for Goliath, who would know of David today?

We need truly massive challenges to contribute value and grow ourselves and our business. This reminds me of a poignant message in a Mercedes ad which I recently saw in a business magazine: “Press your foot firmly on the throat of mediocrity!” What is very evident is that managers generally settle for dealing with small issues rather than tackling the difficult ones. This could either be due to their lack of capacity or them being risk averse or a bit of both. Back in 2005, Imaad Rizvi embarked on a journey to become a driver for A1 Team Pakistan, so that one day, he could join the ranks of Adam Khan and others to lend further strength to our country’s first ever venture into the world stage of motorsports. At the time, Pakistan secured 10th position overall in round one of the inaugural ‘A1 Grand Prix’ race held at Brands Hatch.

This was the first World Cup in the history of motorsports. Hats off to Arif Husain, the then chairman of A1 Team Pakistan and also to our key national sponsors that included Warid, PIA, PSO, GEO et al. They did a great service in bringing Pakistan to the centre stage of one of the most admired sports in the world. What I learned from Imaad was that a millisecond determined the difference between a good and a great driver. And attaining this level of precision was an arduous journey. As a case in point, Pakistan was in 4th position in the early laps at Brands Hatch. A minor delay of a few seconds in the pit-stop pushed us back to 13th position. At first Imaad had described his training as stressful. However, later, with the passage of only a few months of races in places like Silverstone, UK and at the Bahrain International Circuit, he found the rigor involved, therapeutic and calming. He now relishes the prospect of taking on bigger challenges. This has become his passion. His new found confidence gained from his stint in the world of motorsports is serving him well today – almost seven years later, in his career at United Way – the largest NGO in Canada. The very thought of climbing great heights, and that too, effortlessly is counterintuitive.

Imagine going for the proverbial big leap in your own context. As a manager, achieving significant results in increasingly tough times is crucial for you. This could be in terms of increased sales, bigger production targets, improving quality of products or services, raising capital, restructuring or devising new strategies for growth. Such endeavors can cause immense stress. Embracing meaningful challenges need not be a traumatic experience! It’s fun, when you love what you do and actually enjoy the process without, of course, wanting to prove anything to anyone. Performing in challenging circumstances is a source of energy and immense motivation for the young and the not so young! There are a number of inspiring examples of leaders who have achieved what seemed impossible, without necessarily, losing sleep over it.

Of course, in the beginning, even contemplating a daring strategy can be scary. Quite a few heads of companies in the fast-growing telecoms, pharmaceutical and energy sectors will bear me out. Daring to accomplish hair-raising goals is seen and felt more as a romantic notion, rather than a practical proposition. “Too much is at stake”, “what if this audacious plan backfires,” “Better to be safe than sorry”. Such sentiments come out of our innate desire to feel secure in the world of the ‘known’. Whereas, our work involves dabbling with the future – the great imponderable that is mysterious and frightening.

Our job as managers and leaders has a lot to do with setting direction and aligning human capacity to implement demanding strategies within tight policy, time and budgetary constraints. We fail miserably when we lack decisiveness by failing to make to make the infinite choices available to us. Creative and innovative thinking are needed in all those who lead their organizations through uncharted territories. Taking control of a situation, leading from the front and displaying courage with integrity, in complex situations, can be extremely stressful and scary for many – but this need not be, if we realize that our fears stem from our paradigms – the rules by which we interpret reality. The real challenge is not outside of us – it is within us! We can change the way we see our world and hence change our reality. By doing so, climbing the Everest can be more like scrolling in the park! Of the two main functions in our brain – memory and imagination, sadly many of us are trapped by ‘memory’ – the ‘known’ – a place where our beliefs also reside. Some of these beliefs can be debilitating, while others empower. We need keep the beliefs that serve our purpose, and dump the rest, while using our faculty of imagination to the full.

Our future is like a blank canvas that invites our masterstrokes of imagination. When we view problems as stepping stones to professional and personal greatness, they become a whole new ball game!

Balancing Two Extremes

“The line between firmness and harshness, between strong leadership and bullying, between discipline and [rigidity] – is a fine one.  It is difficult to define, but those of us who are professionals and also have accepted as a career the leadership of men, must find that line.”

General Melvin Zais, US Army

Much of the literature on change and transformation talks about maximizing employee and stakeholder participation through engagement. While this is true, it is necessary to bear in mind some important caveats. In certain circumstances or times – invariably in urgent or crisis situations – leaders have to lead, and people simply have to do what they are told and follow orders. The fundamental point is to know exactly when to direct, and when to dialogue. This calls for balancing the two extremes of leadership styles – the ‘telling’ versus the empowered approaches.

In a recent team engagement session I conducted for an oil and gas company, its CFO shared the following illuminating piece. It was an extract from an article by General Melvin Zais of the US army:

“The day I assumed command of this division I enjoined the leaders to take care of their men. I have reiterated this statement many times since then. Even so, I again find it necessary to call this matter to your attention. Taking care of your men includes food, shelter, pay, clothing, mail and recreation, but even more important is your attitude.

  • You cannot expect a soldier to be a proud soldier if you humiliate him.
  • You cannot expect him to be brave if you abuse him.
  • You cannot expect him to be strong if you break him.
  • You cannot ask for respect and obedience and willingness to assault hot landing zones, climb up back-breaking ridges or destroy dug-in emplacements if your soldier has not been treated with the respect and dignity which fosters unit spirit and personal pride.

The line between firmness and harshness, between strong leadership and bullying, between discipline and [rigidity] – is a fine one.  It is difficult to define, but those of us who are professionals and also have accepted as a career the leadership of men, must find that line.  It is because judgements and people and human relationships are involved in leadership that only men can lead men, and not computers.

I enjoin you to be ever alert to the pitfalls of too much authority.  For the very junior leader beware that you do not fall in the category of the little man with a little job and with a big head.  In essence, be considerate.  Treat your subordinates right and they will literally die for you”.

One thing is clear, that both the directive and empowering styles of leadership are appropriate in change management – but in different contexts, and for different reasons and purposes. It is accepted the world over that embracing change is absolutely vital for the success of all organizations. Yet, why is it that change programs often fail to meet desired goals? Need for research into the success factors and causes of failure in change programs has never been greater.

Happily, most new ideas and trends in change management are not rocket science. However, they merit serious consideration as we grapple with the demands posed by the 21st century. N. Machiavelli captures the essence of the challenge thus: “There is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to be a leader in the introduction of changes. For he, who innovates, will have for enemies all those who are well off under the old order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.”

Nature abhors status quo. Change has been with us since the beginning of time and will endure. The least we can do is to keep ourselves abreast with the unfolding realities in our business and socio-economic environment and adapt accordingly, or simply perish. Ideally, we should be able to read the trends in our respective industries and markets and try to stay ahead of the game.

How individuals and organizations respond to the challenges of sustaining growth will vary significantly. For example, a small organization may want to expand into new markets by opening a local sales office overseas as part of its strategy. On the other hand, a large multinational may decide to centralize or consolidate certain operations into a single location. Some may want to switch from a national brand and attempt to create a single global brand, while others may favor creation of global business units with regional operations. Such strategic considerations will involve plenty of management time gathering and analyzing relevant data; considering the pros and cons of each alternative; and working out ways that will make the needed organization-wide changes effective.

Competitive pressures, organizational life-cycle, internal succession, technology, geo-politics, regulation & deregulation, and market expectations continue to be dynamic, forcing organizations to continuously renew and revitalize themselves. This requires constant unlearning and re-learning – something most managers understand at an intellectual level, but have difficulty practicing in real life.

In one of your future meetings, ask your managers, “Do people need to change?” Invariably all hands will go up, signifying a resounding “Yes”! Then ask a follow-up question, “Do you need to change?” And notice the pause and silence, before hands go up slowly and reluctantly. It’s easy to point fingers at others. It’s high time we learned to look within ourselves.

“Things” change only if people change. And people only change if they see the world differently. This implies the need for continuous personal development. The essential truth is that you cannot force people to change; they have to want to change.

In light of the above, the challenge for leadership in organizations is to take their people through some form of an interactive process that enables them to understand what is happening within and around their organization. This helps them to draw their own conclusions about the implications and options in change. Such programs need to take place at all levels – those of the individual, team and the organization.

Everyone needs to get involved and engaged in the debate about future directions and change. Through such an approach we mobilize energy for change through joint diagnosis of business problems and collective search for possible solutions. Organizations like United Energy Pakistan, Engro Corp and Karachi Electric Supply Co (KESC), and many others, are successfully managing change by following such a participative strategy. The good news is that major local companies in Pakistan are also joining the foray.

We need to keep in mind a growing social trend worldwide, that of the increasing importance and power of the individuals. The implications for change are profound. In every area of change, there is an increasing awareness of the need to treat people as individuals – understanding, respecting, valuing and working within the sphere of the individual. This requires considerable amounts of time for understanding, planning, tolerance, and flexibility. We need to get wiser at change by understanding its complexities and subtleties, and adopt more practical and relevant approaches to it.

In other words, we need to consider an integrative approach. It makes sense, but produces some difficult choices for those charged with bringing change. There are strong, positive benefits for organizations that adopt a broader approach. However, the downside is the amount of discussion and debate that is required to consolidate differing views and perspectives on issues.

By the balancing the two extremes we can not only create a buy-in of all key stakeholders, but can also drastically reduce the time to implement agreed plans and strategies as there will be much less resistance and fewer surprises during execution.