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November 16, 2018 | PIRAMAL FOUNDATION

Empathetic intelligence sooner than later…

I get to read a lot of stories from different lands, translated from different languages. One such story that I often recall is about this one ‘bestest’ ship that this king wanted his navy to make. It was expected to be the largest, the strongest, the fastest, the most beautifully ornamented and able to support a large number of luxury-loving variety-demanding royal travelers. Against the caution and advice of many of senior generals and engineers, the project was commissioned, designed and built. And on its day of its launch, the doomed ship sank. Obviously, “grand vision” was over-constraining, not smart!

Many of you may have come across the statement and mentions to the effect that the ‘19th century belonged to Physics, the 20th to Chemistry and that the 21st will belong to biology’. (I am not only unable to recall where I first read it, but am also not able to ascertain online who this comment is credited to)

Regardless, there are lots of mentions and supporting examples provided. The examples expand the meaning to the 19thcentury being about ‘laws that apply to all matter’, and for some by implication a deterministic world. Similarly, the 20thcentury about discovering, how matter changes when it interacts with other matter(s). Thus extrapolating that the 21stcentury will be about learning from ‘evolution’ in biological systems and its replication. Though, a massive reduction of trends in hundred different directions, this statement and its possible implications fascinate me.

What further boosts my interest is the close association of the two words, namely Organism and Organization. Now in biology, organism means any individual entity that exhibits properties of life, in fact it is synonymous with ‘life-form’. On the other hand, an organization is an entity with multiple people who are associated with each other for serving a collective goal or purpose and is attached to an external environment. The former has types like cellular, multi-cellular etc. and the latter also has companies, clubs, NGOs etc.

The questions it raises are quite interesting: like can we treat the entire nation or the society as an organization. I guess yes. Then what is the goal or purpose we are working towards? What is it? Where is it? In the Constitution, perhaps!

Assume now that the society is an organism/life-form, this one raises even more intriguing questions: in a multi-cellular and fairly advanced organism, despite specialization of tissues and organs, sense of pain and loss is recorded when even smallest of the hairs/nails gets plucked or if there is even a minor scratch. Therefore a certain sense of oneness and empathy, feeling of other’s pain as one’s own, really is a test which cannot be sidestepped or ignored.

Another feature of advanced organisms is ‘the intelligence to respond to the environment’. Now if one were to put the above two premises together, the conclusion is that the real smartness is in becoming inclusive and empathetic.

So — if in this societal organism’s case, parts of it are not getting basic things like nutrition, safe drinking water, education, health-care and safety, its sense of empathy needs to kick-in as the first requirement of its being intelligent, advanced or smart! Ergo, Empathetic = Intelligent, Advanced Smart!


A recurring blog by Sarvajal CEO Anuj Sharma – an educationist at heart, who began with Pratham – has been with Piramal Sarvajal since its inception in 2008. He keeps stirring the turgid pot of knowledge as far as all-around solutions for the safe and reliable drinking water problem called Beyond The Pipe go.