Baboons, Hyenas and Stress

“If I had to define a major depression in a single sentence, I would describe it as a “genetic/neurochemical disorder requiring a strong environmental trigger whose characteristic manifestation is an inability to appreciate sunsets.”

― Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

Robert Sapolsky has studies troop of baboons in Africa. He came up with some interesting findings and based on his findings he has written books like “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” and “A Primate’s Memoir”

Another scientist Kay Holekamp studied pack of hyenas in Africa, she too has come up with some interesting findings.

Findings of Kay and Robert are useful to understand organisational dynamics.

In case of hyenas, the females are larger and more aggressive than males. An alpha female leads the pack. Within group females have higher rank, while males have lower rank. The status is ascribed i.e. it passes on from mother to cubs.

“A hyena will only attack a lower-ranking animal and is invariably submissive to a higher-ranking one…. every hyena knows just who is of higher rank, who is of lower rank and which allies are present,”

-Kay Holekamp.

Males are not in a position to question the status and follow the rule. Any violation of rules means attack by female coalition and certain death. So, male will quietly accept humiliation to remain in pack. Due to their powerful jaws they are able to break bones and eat it. They don’t mind eating rotten flesh and rarely fall sick. After hunt it is females who get to eat the prey first, males have to eat whatever remains after feast i.e. bones. This equation has not changes for hundreds of years.

In case of baboons, the troop leader is alpha male, the females are less powerful and are usually submissive to alpha male. In troop there is clear hierarchy, those at lower ends are subject to abuses by those at the top of hierarchy. This constant abuse by bosses, creates lot of stress in lower order baboons.

Sapolsky in his study of baboons, found that compared to higher order baboons the lower order baboons had higher stress levels. Unlike hyenas they just don’t tolerate abuse and move on in life.

This can be applied to human organisations. In his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” he gives example of zebra facing stress while facing lion. After the lion fails in his chase and zebra is safe, the stress is gone and zebra again starts grazing.

“If you’re stressed like a normal mammal in an acute physical crisis, the stress response is lifesaving. But if instead you chronically activate the stress response for reasons of psychological stress, your health suffers.”

― Robert M. Sapolsky

But in case of humans, the stress is not temporary, he is constantly under stress and this results in health problems.

The dominant baboons of the troop studies by Sapolsky were extra nasty to lower order male baboons and females. One day they ate meat from garbage dump, they wanted to have it for themselves so did not allow lower order males and females to eat it. Eating of meat resulted in diseases in dominant males and they dies.

“Some baboons have a Type A personality, and they pay for it in terms of disease… The baboons that handle stress best, in contrast, are those who have formed stable social connections.”

-Robert Sapolsky

With removal of dominant males in one stroke, the equation changed, the females took over the charge of troops. With this the culture also changed, the males stopped attacking females and even among themselves they were more peaceful. Sapolsky observed that the troop was more peaceful and stress levels were less. Less fights resulted in more bonding, and it was found that bonding helps to lower stress levels.






Bhanwari Devi, Sri Reddy and Sexual Harassment

In 1992, a social worker in Rajasthan called Bhanwari Devi was attacked by upper caste men for opposing child marriage. She was gang raped. The crime was not taken seriously by police department. As a protest against this event several women organisation filed public interest litigation in Supreme Court under collective platform of Vishakha. In 1997,Supreme Court in its landmark judgement provided definition of sexual harassment and guidelines to deal with it, popularly known as Vishakha guidelines.

Post this most organisations have come up with mechanism to prevent sexual harassment at work place.

But not all organisations follow these guidelines. The case of Tarun Tejpal clearly shows that even media is largely ignorant of these guidelines. Tarun Tejpal owner of magazine Tehelka sexually assaulted his subordinate, the organisation did nothing about it. It was only when the victim went to police that media came into action and police arrested Tarun Tejpal. Sadly, many senior male journalists supported Tarun Tejpal.

Situation in film industry is even worse. In film industry whether it is Bollywood or Tollywood or Kollywood, most of the production houses are owned by few families, most of the leading stars (mostly males) also belong to these families. Film industry is male dominated, feudal structure.

Cases of sexual harassment are many, but no one protests, because if anyone protests then these families come together and deny any work to protesters.

In Tollywood, finally one actress called Sri Reddy decided to protest against the producer who was exploiting her. But her protests were ignored, finally in desperation she stripped to attract attention of media and public towards exploitation. The reaction was swift, male fraternity attacked her on social media, they questioned her character. The Movie Artists Association ( MAA) of Telugu film industry decided to impose ban on her. While most of the stars (both male and female) kept quiet, she got support from junior artists and women’s association. Her strip protest  forced the industry to react to the issue, resulting in the MAA forming a Committee Against Sexual Harassment.

Nehru, Jinnah and Speeches

In year 1947, India was partitioned into two countries- the Hindu majority part retained the name India, while the Muslim majority part called itself, Pakistan, the land of pure.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a Mumbai based lawyer became leader of Pakistan, while Jawaharlal Nehru became leader of India. Both wanted their nations to be liberal democracies.

While Nehru wanted India to be a secular democracy, Jinnah’s stand on secularism was bit ambiguous. This ambiguous stand helped him to keep conservative elements and modernists together. In his speech to Constituent Assembly at Karachi, he made his views clear, he wanted all to be Pakistanis irrespective of their caste or religion.

“We should begin to work in that spirit, and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community — because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on — will vanish. …You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

-Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Speech on 11th August 1947 at Constituent Assembly, Karachi

He believed that in course of time, Hindus and Muslims will forget their differences and will become ideal citizens of Pakistan.

“You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

-Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Speech on 11th August 1947

In his speech he also talked about ills of Indian society like corruption, bribery, black marketing, nepotism etc. He expressed wish that land of pure would be free from this evil.

“One of the biggest curses from which India is suffering — I do not say that other countries are free from it, but I think our condition is much worse — is bribery and corruption.”

-Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Speech on 11th August 1947

To show his commitment to secularism he included Hindu minister in his cabinet- Dalit leader from Bengal- Jogendranath Mandal.

The was strong demand to get rid of impurities like Ahmadiyyas, Hindus from land of pure and declare Pakistan as Islamic nation.

 “On Aug 15, 1947, the cabinet initially had eight ministers. Names of two of these ministers stand out in the much polarised Pakistan of today: Zafarullah Khan (minister of foreign affairs & commonwealth relations), and Jogendra Nath Mandal (minister of law).”

-Nadeem Paracha, Dawn

Jinnah stood strongly against conservatives and refused to declare Ahmadiyyas as non Muslims. He made Zafarullah Khan, a Ahmadiyya, foreign minister of Pakistan.

“who am I to call a person non-Muslim who calls himself a Muslim …”

-Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Press conference in Kashmir in 1940 on declaring Ahmadiyyas as non Muslims

But conversion to Islamic nation started soon after death of Jinnah in 1948. Pakistan’s Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan started journey of Pakistan towards Islamic nation. Due to this Jogendranath Mandal left cabinet and returned to India. During Bhutto’s regime Ahmadiyyas were declared as non-Muslims. General Zia accelerated the process of Islamisation and speech of Jinnah was forgotten. Today no one can find audio tapes of Jinnah’s speech.

“The speech disappeared after 1977 when Gen Zia came to power through a reactionary coup. It remained expunged from textbooks and state-owned media for the next three decades. It was only periodically reproduced in books by ‘revisionist historians’ and scholars such as Sibte Hasan, Ayesha Jalal, K.K. Aziz and Dr Mubarak Ali.”

-Nadeem Paracha, Dawn

Meanwhile in India, Nehru in his famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech expressed his desire to make India a great nation, free of religious bias. Nehru’s speech was more ideological as against practical speech of Jinnah. India of today is not much different from what it was during independence. The level of secularism, democracy, corruption, black money, nepotism etc remained largely unchanged.

We Indians are like this only.

“We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.”

-Jawaharlal Nehru, Speech on 15th August 1947, Constituent Assembly, New Delhi


Impala, Baboon and Trust

“Trust but verify”

-Ronald Reagan

In animal world there are many examples of symbiotic relationship, it a relationship where both species benefit, it is opposite of parasitic relationship, were one specie benefits at the cost of other.

One such symbiotic relationship is between impala and baboon. Impala is good in hearing while baboon can see well, esp. baboon troop always keeps one baboon as sentry on tree, so that he can detect predator early and warn others.

This combination works well for early warning system. There are other benefits also. The baboon drops half eaten fruits from trees, impala gets to eat fruits which are otherwise are not accessible to them.

Due to this relationship impalas and baboons move together.

But relationship can change especially when impala gave birth to fawn. Baboons are also good hunters, they don’t hesitate to hunt fawns. Impalas are unable to detect this change in behaviour of baboons, baboons too show they are not interested in fawns and manage to reach very close to fawns, by the time fawn detects danger it is too late.

Baboons teach us most important principle of trusting – Trust but verify. Trust but verify is translation of  Russian proverb -Doveryai, no proveryai. Ronald Reagan was fond of using this statement during cold war.

Eggshell Rule, Vosburg vs. Putney, Harassment

In February 1889, a fourteen-year-old boy Andrew Vosburg was kicked in shin by 11-year-old boy George Putney. While George had no intention of hurting Andrew, Andrew developed infection due to this and became lame in one leg. The court ruled that while George had no intention of hurting Andrew and while in normal circumstances such action may not do any serious harm, previous injury Andrew had got serious due to kick, so George was responsible for lameness. He had to pay Andrew $ 2500 as compensation.

This case highlights the Eggshell rule, which states that the defendant must “take their victims as they find them”. The argument that victim suffered more damage due to precondition, not due to action of defendant is not valid.

“The difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.”
―Robert Sutton

Abusing subordinates is common in corporate world. In fact, it is matter of pride for boss to abuse his subordinates as it is considered to be way to motivate subordinate to perform. The boss always argues that there is nothing personal in abuse, he is just trying to urge them to perform better. In case a person is emotionally weak it can even lead to suicide. In such case, as per eggshell rule it won’t be wrong to hold boss responsible for suicide.

Self Defeating Personality Disorder

“Good bosses remain alert for symptoms of neurotic imposture in their employees: fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism, procrastination, and workaholism.”

–  Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries

In psychology there is interesting personality disorder called Self Defeating Personality Disorder. It is defined as a pervasive pattern of self-defeating behaviour, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts. The person may often avoid or undermine pleasurable experiences, be drawn to situations or relationships in which they will suffer and prevent others from helping them.

People suffering from this disorder are experts in snatching defeat from jaws of victory. It is combination of two behaviours, the person doesn’t feel that he is good enough and secondly, he is interested is sacrificing himself for others.

The first kind of behaviour is also called as imposter syndrome. The term impostor phenomenon was coined in 1978 by Georgia State University psychology professor Pauline Clance and psychologist Suzanne Imes in a study of high-achieving women.

These psychologists discovered that many of their female clients attributed success not to their talent but to factors like luck, timing etc.

Sometimes this results in person working too hard to overcome their perceived inadequacy. They become workaholics and forget work life balance. They feel guilty enjoying life.

Even when they are working hard, they feel that they will fail, they never visualise success as a result of hard work and talent.

“With every success, neurotic impostors think, “I was lucky this time, fooling everyone, but will my luck hold? When will people discover that I’m not up to the job?”

–  Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries

Management expert and psychoanalyst Manfred Kets de Vries suggests following steps to help people overcome their fear of success.

  • The first step towards getting over the fear of success is to recognize it. Think back to your childhood. Did a parent, another family member, or a teacher, or a sports coach keep telling you that you weren’t very capable or likeable, or never seem to be satisfied with your work, no matter how well you performed?  To overcome his fears, I get client surface his associations around success. He needed to better understand the sources of his fears and discard his secret self-image as an unsuccessful, undeserving person.
  • During the coaching process, client realizes how busily he had engaged in self-sabotaging activities that held him back from achieving his goals and dreams—including in his personal life. What he found particularly helpful was being asked questions that challenged his internal narrative of success. For example, how did he envision success? Could he do a “cost-benefit analysis” of what it meant to be successful?


Luso Indians, Henry Vivian Derozio, Casimiro Monteiro

The Portuguese Empire included major colonies like Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. They also had colonies in other countries, including Goa in India. The Portuguese conquerors married local women resulting in new mixed races like Luso Indians, Luso-Americans, Luso Africans, Luso Asians etc.

Luso Indians gave India two interesting personalities- Henry Vivian Derozio and Casimiro Monterio.

My country! In thy days of glory past

A beauteous halo circled round thy brow

and worshipped as a deity thou wast-

Where is thy glory, where the reverence now?

Thy eagle pinion is chained down at last,

And grovelling in the lowly dust art thou,

Thy minstrel hath no wreath to weave for thee

Save the sad story of thy misery!

Well-let me dive into the depths of time

And bring from out the ages, that have rolled

A few small fragments of these wrecks sublime

Which human eye may never more behold

And let the guerdon of my labour be,

My fallen country! One kind wish for thee!

– Henry Vivian Derozio, To India- My native land

Derozio was one of the India’s first nationalist poet. He was intellectual who influenced his students with his ideas. The students called themselves Derozians and started Young Bengal Movement, they started questioning orthodoxy and beliefs of Hindu religion. This helped in reform of Indian society.

Derozio became teacher in Hindu college at very young age of 17 years. He died at the age of 22 years due to cholera. So, within a short span of 5 years he could influence society with his ideas. He wrote poems on pathetic condition of India, which was once a great nation.

Why hang’st thou lonely on yon withered bough?

Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;

Thy music once was sweet — who hears it now?

Why doth the breeze sigh over thee in vain?

Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain;

Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,

Like ruined monument on desert plain:

O! many a hand more worthy far than mine

Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,

And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine

Of flowers still blooming on the minstrel’s grave:

Those hands are cold — but if thy notes divine

May be by mortal wakened once again,

Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!

-Henry Vivian Derozio, The Harp of India

Derozio died in 1831. Almost a decade later in Goa, a son was born to Portuguese father and native Goan mother. He was called Casimiro Emérito Rosa Teles Jordão Monteiro. Unlike Derozio , he was neither an intellectual nor did he have any love for his native land India. In 1961 Jawaharlal Nehru decided to make Goa, he got support from Goan nationalists.During this period Casimiro was member of Goan Police who tortured Goan nationalists. Casimiro took active part in torture.

When Goa became part of India, Casimiro joined as secret service agent of police in Portugal. Portugal then was ruled by economist turned dictator called António de Oliveira Salazar. Salazar was keen to keep whatever had remined of Portuguese Empire. They had already lost their most important colony Brazil in 1822. Inspite of Salazar’s efforts Goa became part of India. They were now keen to retain two other key colonies – Angola and Mozambique.

Salazar’s authority was challenged by another leader General Humberto Delgado. Task of eliminating Delgado was given to Caisimiro. Casimiro shot Delgado and killed him. He also strangulated Delagado secretary, a Brazilian woman called Arajaryr Moreira de Campos.

In Mozambique, Portuguese authority was challenged by nationalist leader Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane. Both Eduardo and Casimiro were born in same year i.e. 1920. Eduardo started nationalist movement called FRELIMO- Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Liberation Front). FRELIMO operated from Tanzania.

Casimiro managed to get in to Tanzania and sent a parcel with bomb to Eduardo. The bomb exploded when it was opened by Eduardo and killed him.

After Salazar’s regime was overthrown, Casimiro shifted from Portugal to South Africa. He died in South Africa in 1993.