The Terrifying Potential of Social Innovation & Yet the Heart Aches …

Last week, I was privileged to be invited as a part of the staff for the Group Relations India’s 10th annual conference in Mumbai on a theme – “Meeting the Other, Meeting Ourselves:  Fear and Longing in working with difference.”


If I were to look at the theme itself – the recruiting of members to the conference was a resounding triumph – the 54 members and the 12 of us in the staff represented men & women, transgender, heterosexuals and homosexuals, people of different race & color, all castes & classes, religious identities spanning Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism, the young and the old, urban and rural, representing geographies including Europe, US, Asia, and India, managers and consultants, and NGOs, activists and the modern corporations – the diversity was inherent in almost all manners conceivable.


Sixty-six human beings worked with each other and with oneself – intensely and passionately over the next six days in a hotel in Mira Road – north of Mumbai – committed to meeting the Other and to embracing the Self… and discovering the innate wonder, rawness, scars, hurts, and beauty within and in the Other.


For those not familiar with Group Relations Conferences or GRCs – these encourage collectively working in a space that gets created through an array of experiential, reflective, and dialogic forums – each offering a different quality of exploration – and all of these bolstered by looking at what the unconscious has to offer to the community – allowing each of us to move beyond our defenses and our thinking models and access our inner worlds – individual and collective.


This GRC was exceptional for me …


As an upper class heterosexual Indian, it reminded and challenged me to look at how I collude and encourage inequity and exploitation – brought me face to face with an inner world that chooses not to either acknowledge the victim or dignify the violated. It brought forth the aloneness of being an instrument and the fatigue of clinging on to my sense of the role bereft of either the underlying fears or of longing. Lastly, it just invited me to spell out my political ideology a little more clearly and not hide behind my ambivalence.


What I liked about this conference as opposed to GRCs that I have worked in across the world, was the new capstone of integrating the mind, body, and spirituality – known as the MBSE event – this served as a capstone allowing me to integrate the oriental stepping stones of mindfulness with a rich occidental work on group dynamics and the unconscious. I would not get tired of applauding the efforts of Ganesh and Rosemary in designing and experimenting this event and the sheer grace with which Gunjan and Eliat joined in. Haunting melodies of Meera-bhajans and Carnatic raagas over four days allowed each of us to access our inner worlds that went beyond articulated and wordy defenses, touching inner refrains of existential longing and desire for the other… MBSE was indeed the capstone allowing for a certain quality of touch and healing, allowing us to also access the violence and the pathos that we all worked with in other events.


In the end, most members came out with poignant questions and a deeper awareness of the Self and the Other – sitting on a sense of rawness as well as churning – these would settle in due time but would also reinforce new choice making and new role-taking in the worlds that they come from.


Working with the Unconscious does not allow for any swift escapes and denials – through dreams and through here and now processes – this work kept offering all of us gifts of many kinds, including a type that Gouranga speaks of – as a ‘Slap on the Face’… It exposed our preferred refuges and cozy positions – that of the sorrow of the victim or the guilt of the oppressor, and asked each of us to move and to make new choices. The quality of the explorations was brought alive by a collective energy, graciousness and an investment into building an intimacy that beckoned us all to move beyond regressed states of basic assumption groups.


Needless to state that some of us also emerged conscious of the violence and of the prejudice that the community worked on – this is difficult to swallow without having a sense of Faith and Hope in the human struggle. The large group events only reinforced the underlying forces of differences, hatred, rage, and sadness that all of us had to work with. This GRC was not to leave one with a feel good ambiance – but with a greater awareness and cognizance of what it means to live in the world today.


It would be churlish of me if I did not refer to the sheer compassion, courage, creativity, and energies that Rosemary Viswanath and Ganesh Ananatharaman brought in – in terms of generating, recruiting, designing and directing a conference that can boast of Social Innovation with an Indian spirit. It is with great longing that I hope that this theme continues … for it allows for a brave exploration of what it means to be a self-authorizing human being, at the risk of being engulfed and defeated by what we see in the world today…



3 thoughts on “The Terrifying Potential of Social Innovation & Yet the Heart Aches …

  1. Wonderful reflections Gagan. You are right, there was something about this GRC that continues to persist, almost haunt and I feel its impact every single day. We all changed in some ways and world will never be the same again. Warm regards, Gunjan


  2. WOW! Gagan! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Your expression revealed the sheer raw confrontation of self and the other that a GRC brings in and the special nature of this GRC. Could get a feel of the energy, the atmosphere and the pain that the explorations bring to emerge as a different human being. Where else can you get such a platform to confront self so deeply in the presence of the other! Anuradha Prasad


  3. Re-lived the GRC Gagan in your eloquent writing, also accessing the fear and longing to unpack some of those undigested blobs that working with the unconscious often leaves one with. My experience was that this GRC along with its theme uniquely created a bitter-sweet path to seeing oneself through seeing the other. So apt to name it ‘social innovation’, to work through the violence that difference almost always seems to evoke and look towards ‘seeking’ difference as the inevitable way to embracing oneself.


Comments are closed.