Better Decision making – The Gita and Proust to our rescue!

Why do we often make the wrong decisions?

I came across an incredible insight from contemplating on a few messages in the Gita recently – it talks about the two powerful approaches we all have for connecting/ making decisions. The first is using discriminatory intelligence (buddhi in sanskrit) where we use our reasoning power to decide the right path forward. The second is the emotive aspect (manas in sanskrit) – where decisions are based on emotional considerations a (and yeah – we often then force fit a “rational” reason to support the decision!). And the awesome insight is that we use the wrong tool for the wrong context – flip it around and we should be ok.

So for instance – if an acquaintance’s relative dies, we use our discriminative facility and tell them exactly how to process this loss. We share quotes on the fragility and the fleetingness of life and provide ideas to help the person deal with the loss. Chances often are that the person is not in the right frame to take this piece of advice – they are too emotionally wrought – and we end up not connecting at all.

Now, when we are faced with a similar disaster, we use emotive reasoning instead of the discriminatory one. We play the scene over and over in our minds and bring up emotions of anger, guilt, denial – we struggle to move on with life for a very, very long time.

Our ancient wisdom seems to say – why not flip this around? In the first case, use some emotional connect – put yourself in the person’s shoes and you’ll know what they feel like. And your response can be based on their nature (some will want to be alone, some would want a listener as they vent their frustration, some would just want a shoulder to cry on). In short, you are bringing in some empathy.

And when dealing with disasters at home, using the buddhi may be more helpful. This requires a complete acceptance of what has happened and how one feels (Sad/ helpless etc) and then permit oneself to “without blame” process the pain/ grieve/ provide any other outlets as much as required. The acceptance of the situation and directly feeling the emotion will bring some peace at the end as we close out unresolved questions.

For such large scenarios, this makes sense. But how then can we decide in the case of smaller everyday decisions – which situation calls for which response? I guess Proust has an answer in his “impartial observer”. Proust recommends that we imagine an impartial observer by our side at all times – and we ask ourselves what will he do? And when we do that, the impartial observer can pick the right response from the above – and that can lead to some progress.

Would you agree with this approach?

Emailing etiquette!

Imagine this. Two people are speaking to each other. A heated conversation is underway. And fifteen of us are standing around, hanging on every word – at the same time wondering why we are there in the first place for the conversation has no worthwhile import for any of us! Now imagine that we employ an even more insidious tool for this mass eves-dropping exercise. We keep recorders close to the conversationalists and listen from our rooms. One of the folks having the conversation (the listener) is actually oblivious to all of us – she doesn’t know we are listening in.

Now transpose this scene to the cyber-world and presto we are bang in the world of cc and its more invisible cousin the bcc. Welcome to the world of emails – and very bad manners (at least if undertaken in the physical world!)!

I just don’t get it – not after over a decade of seeing this behavior time and again. To understand the irrationality of it all though, you need to transpose it to the real life:

  1. Lets say you have a party organized for your friends. Chances are you will call them/ check schedules and invite just the folks who will make it a super day. Now look at how we do our calendar invites in the eworld – we many a time don’t check if someone is available, whether its an appropriate time (since it’s a global village, chances are the status meeting is actually at midnight for someone somewhere in the world!) or if the addressees are really required (hey its free anyway right -if they don’t want, they don’t have to make it!). Many a hapless soul wanders from meeting to meeting with no clue of whats really happening and why he is in the loop! In this case, all those wander are lost!


  1. Or think about when some work is over-due. In the real world, you probably will walk over and let the person know. Maybe you will get him and his leader/ someone who’s an expert together and discuss the way forward. You are not likely to get 10 random “senior” folks across the globe countries into a room (and periodically scream an update no one cares about over the loudspeaker!)). If you tried something like this in your school years, you may have been ostracized for life!


  1. Or take the note with the restricted rights (and addressed just to you). It’s like someone sending you a confidential document delivered by hand – letting you read it (while they are watching from behind – and locking it in your desk – and most importantly taking the key back with her. What will it do for trust?

I guess, with email being free and all – and with many of the earlier adopters not realizing the unacceptability of some of these practices – they have flourished. And now, its so pervasive – almost part of tradition – so we don’t stop to think about whether its appropriate.


But deep down when something like this happens, there’s a twinge in the heart. And a little voice cries out that maybe we changed a behaviour or two. The easiest way to validate if that voice is right is to transpose the situation to a physical world scenario – if it doesn’t seem appropriate, time to change it. You agree?

Musings on perfection – From a commentary on the Heart Sutra

The audience is shifting its legs anxiously, “hey, where’s all the spiritual stuff, the wisdom and so on this blog used to churn out – have these topics gone on a long vacation?”

OK – here goes, let me pull some stuff from a wonderful book by Ken McLeod named “An Arrow to the Heart: A commentary on the Heart Sutra”.

The answers are pulled verbatim from this book – please dive into it for more such contemplative thoughts.

Our question – When is perfection attained?

Perfection is attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away…

Our question – What are the 6 perfections?

For generosity, nothing to own

For ethics, nothing to hide

For patience, nothing to fear

For effort, nothing to achieve

For stable attention, nothing to wander

For wisdom, nothing to know

Endpoint – Contemplate a while on these – the are sure to bring in a shift in awareness …and if you love this, check out Ken McLeod’s website – its truly awesome.

Mirroring me on you””

Think about a meeting. Pick anyone – a friend, a colleague, a casual acquaintance (for instance the postman!) or for that matter even an enemy you prefer to remember!

Picture your meeting with him/her. The visuals, the sounds, the feel – everything. What do you remember from the meeting?

Do you remember his hair was starting to thin or grey? Did you think she spoke too fast, or seemed too nervous? Was the meeting fun? Did you get a chance to advice him or her on any aspect at all?

Come back to this moment. I have often noticed that quite a few of my impressions may actually reveal something about me as much as about the other person (so for instance if I was worried about my hair greying (it so happens I am not, as I have given up long ago!), I would recollect the person’s hair detail). If you want that promotion really bad, did you picture him as being very hungry and agitated for it too?

Is this universal? Does it have to be this way, I guess not….

Try awareness for a while. Reflect back to the scene again – Did you see things as they are or are these a projection of your own world (read fears, hopes and such) on the person and environment?And if this so, would you benefit from following the advice ( or be convinced!) you shared with him? If the answer is a honest no, maybe it’s time to try some mindfulness. ( and no you don’t need Buddhist robes for this!).

In your next meeting, pretend you are also a witness( apart from being the actor too). Observe the scene using all senses and if possible the thoughts running in your mind as well. Chances are you will come away with a lot of understanding about yourself. Now that’ll be nice to have? – taking away facts and not projections??….

Cherish the friend with the alarm clock

I remember hearing this story:

A zen master had a neighbour who always critiqued everything the master did. While this got on the disciples’ nerves, the master himself smiled on hearing the criticism, contemplated it awhile and went on his way. One day, the neighbour died and much to their surprise, the master began crying. ”who will criticize me and make me look for improvement areas?” lamented he..

Why this story now?

Earlier in the week, a very close buddy (and colleague to boot) sent me a quick message. ”beware, I think you are getting into the fast culture too!”.

This was received when I was ”busy” making some plans for the future growth, analysing some of our losses and typically acting out the successful IT exec role.

This message though – it was a wake up call. Let me explain.

I have always thought ”crazy” (or if you are a Puritan ”big”). Switched roles that were considered relatively low on spotlight value, adapted practices from other industries and another time, learnt to pick up greatness tips from giants all over the world. But you’ll notice, he wasn’t talking about this. He was talking about ”fast”. ”Crazy” was ok – actually fun, ”fast” was a no-no.

Fast as in – rushing to work, rushing work, rushing life itself and then impatiently waiting for the harvest – usually some vague, large USD figure and a label of being a winner. And when the harvest came (if it did) you couldn’t enjoy it because you were ”busy” playing ”fast” somewhere else. This fast I had always abhorred – or so I thought, until my friend’s message arrived. I thought and thought some more – and he had been right – that had been a pretty ”fast” day:
– I had rushed from home, hadn’t said too many endearing byes,
– hadn’t enjoyed watching our very entertaining traffic on the drive to work, had actually got a bit frustrated
– the number of smiles that day was way below average, the number of frowns and raised brows was up
– most of my discussions ranged around those business numbers – why had they not resulted or why they had. Essentially was trying to put a logic around uncontrollables!
– not a single call to a friend with no objective but to crack a few jokes and make his or her day….
– very few appreciation emails sent
– transactional dealings and raised voices
– pulling a title (thank god, I drew the line here!)

Which led me to think about the ladder of fallso eloquently called out in lord Krishna’s opus ”the Bhagavad gita”. The idea is broadly this( a touch embellished, hey but I am not a scholar!):
– first we get a desire – either our own or one we acquire from seeing others (eg. Colleague got a 40% hike – so should work to get that too!)
– the desire makes us undertake actions and think thoughts that we wouldn’t have done otherwise (get angry on the team, eat into somebody’s else’s share, pull management strings!)
– if we don’t get the result we want, delusion sets in (man, this life sucks, are the bars open yet?!)
– delusion leads to anger – expressed (shoot the boss down man!) or repressed (so where did you say those beers were – got a load on my head!)
– these give rise to more negative emotions and over time make us forget the person we are and do something truly bizarre, stuff we’ll wish we hadn’t done (and i dont mean counting how much you can drink when really, really angry!).

The interesting thing is that over time bizarre becomes the new normal. If you don’t believe me, take a look at how the truly painful characters at work are at home. Don’t be surprised if they are very nice people indeed – when not at work. The thing is – the mad rush is on, and everybody at work is running at 500 miles an hour, so you can’t stop to smell the flowers.

We tell folks we’d run a while and then rest – but at 500 miles, you can’t stop and even if you do, you are too exhausted to bother about the flowers.

The buddha therefore advocated ”mindfulness” so you could catch yourself before fast became normal and go back to the land of ”cool” before it was too late. But most of us are not buddha’s (we are more like buddhus which is the opposite of the buddha nature!). And therefore you need a friend who plays alarm clock when you are going out of tune. And you can play the same thing for her too. But you need to be open to them, for they are few in the world and will pass you by if you are not attentive.

So does this mean, we shouldn’t set aggressive goals? How could krishna, a very successful king (and a damn good friend) not espouse greatness? Truth be told, he does. He makes a clear distinction between being fast (called desire-motivated-action by that Puritan again!) and being great at what you do – and maybe we should park that discussion for another day…