Civil life requires a network of institutions. Many of them have to be formal to enable order and orderly conduct of affairs. This is a no-choice situation. Concurrently, with formal institutions co-exist many informal institutions. They derive their strength from practises and social sanctions. Many times the retribution for deviation in informal institutions is far more severe than for deviant behaviour in formal institutions.
These are some of the many ironies of collective human life. Yet life has to go on and collective life has its own inexorable logic. Consider marriage, perhaps the longest lasting human institution born and nurtured in three basic human aspirations: the need to love and be loved; the propensity to demand exclusivity in certain emotions; the need to have identified fatherhood. Long before the civil governance emerged there are records of identified human couples living together and procreating.
It will be perhaps acceptable to suggest that civil society is itself an outcome of coded patterns of so called pre-civil society. This is a fascinating line of exploration and it may not be possible to pursue it in any detail in this text.
Closer to the focus of these columns it would be wiser to reiterate that institutions are central to civil behaviour. Not that institutions do not evolve, but there has to be, to the extent possible, a predictable and an identifiable method of evolution and change. Many theorists have cut their teeth in trying to decipher and design this change.
Very often when the theorists meet limitations the 'wags' take over. A'wag' is reported to have commented, "The trouble with institutions is, there are people in it". And people by very definition are both un-programmable and unpredictable (like all animate beings). There is a limit to the predictive validity of individuals. It is here that raison d'etreof institutions becomes really obvious. Given certain preconditions or processes, certain behaviour has to follow. This behaviour is a corner stone of a civil society and enables to bring to human existence a certain degree of specificity.
Institutions have a cycle. They acquire personalities and are allergic to perpetuation unless in some kind of rhythm and sync with the external environment. Thus it is that institutions go through the cycle of pre-launch, launch, crests and troughs, plateauing. Then the cycle begins again. At each stage there is a definite demand on the acumen, resources and willingness of those involved to keep the institution alive. The touch stone of effectiveness of this effort lies in the ability of people to grow and of systems and procedures to evolve to be in tune with the demands that will be made on it.
Above all institutions need commitment and pursuit of some higher order beyond just a search for 'loaves and fishes' for those involved.
Whether people like it or not, idealism is an essential part of responding to gross reality.
G M Trevelyan in his classical work - 'The English Revolution, 1688-1689' has opined that no institution will survive unless a few in it are willing to sacrifice, all they have' for it. It is a profound statement very often overlooked in the popular recipes prescribed for institution building. Practical gross reality has its space but so does idealism and one could just as well add spirituality. Materialism is a fact of life and spirituality is no less. It is a question of what one is capable of recognising and grasping.
Reference has been made in preceding lines to a cycle from pre-launch phase to plateauing. The cycle doesn't stop with plateauing. After the plateauing, when the process begins again, it could be triggered by a decline setting in. That decline, too, has to be met with conscious renewal if it institution is to survive. It is this renewal which has to be taken up in great earnestness to make it operative.
There is a whole craft of institution building and it may not be possible to elaborate all the stages of the process, in this text. The purpose of this write-up however is to point out that institution building in reality is a craft. In parts it is a science and in parts it is an art. Ultimately, it is what emerges from this effort and can be tangibly felt, that lends to it, its character of being a craft.
Institution building is at times a historical necessity. On other occasions it is a tribute to human effort. In either case it has its moments of frustration but the summation is always of fulfilment and a contribution to the cause it seeks to respond to.