The Slums of Mumbai When Leaders Accept the Status Quo
They were emotional hours that I witnessed first hand the deplorable conditions millions of people live in daily. But I was even more saddened when I heard a government official describe the politicians’ lack of desire to effect change. I was disheartened by how grossly incompetent and negligent leaders can be—sinking to dangerously self-serving levels of corruption that all of us need to guard against.
Allow me to share my experience with you.
Slums are cramped, dirty, damp areas where poor water drainage systems allow sewage to flow freely into the streets. Living spaces are only a few square feet and are overpopulated by both people and rodents. The people live in abject poverty and filth for generations. It is dismal and tragic. It is a fact that the majority of humanity lives in dire conditions. So what made me feel so perturbed?
According to the nice lady we spoke with, politicians are voted in by the residents of the slums because they receive assistance and handouts. If these politicians work to eradicate the slums, they will lose votes. Of course, this lady could be biased, and by no means am I an expert on the politics in India. But here are the facts. Of the twelve million people living in Mumbai, 40% of them live in the slums. That’s almost 5 million people. How can this be? Where is the leadership?
When leaders are faced with tough realities, their answer is commonly, “our hands are tied because…” (and they give a million reasons). I know that’s my first go-to answer. I always have a ready answer for why certain things may not be so good for the people I lead.
I think over time, leaders get numb. We become paralyzed. Then there is death. It reminds me of snakes who bite their prey with a neuro-paralytic poison. The victim cannot move, and then they are swallowed whole. As leaders, many times we get bit by the snake of what we perceive as reality. We surrender to our circumstances and slip into the status quo. We give up without admitting that we did. We see the mountain before us as unmovable, so we work alongside our people under its cold and dark shadow. That’s how it starts: slowly…we begin turning away from our ugly reality. We become desensitized to it. We give excuses when we are confronted with it. We give up and die because of it.
I love the Indians. They have an amazing culture. What I describe here is not a condemnation of the Indian people, but disapproval of the state of leadership in India and around the world. We may pride ourselves for not having slums like these in the United States. But we have problems that affect humanity as well. And boy, are we all numb to it—both we the people and our leaders. In our country alone, 48.1 million people are hungry. Approximately half a million people are homeless on any given night. 40,000 people a year take their own lives. 14,000 people were murdered last year. We house 6 million people in prison. And 1 million abortions are performed each year.
As a leader, I too fall prey to this same insidious venom. I become numb to our condition. After reflecting on my experience in Mumbai, I have asked myself these questions: “What terrible state have I become accustomed to? What tragic circumstances have I allowed to become the norm in my life and with the people I lead?”
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