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A Case For Dharma

Madhav’s dharma is to ensure his choices are not inimical to basic ethics

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The case focuses on the purpose of coaching in the modern, pressured, corporate context. While making Madhav more assertive may appear to be the brief, the real need is, enabling Madhav to exhibit assertive behavior when the situation so demands. In his own unique way, without his having to become a table thumping 600-pound alpha male silverback. This new behaviour has to be learned and exhibited quickly. The corporate world demands babies be produced not in three, but in one quarter!

To quote from the famous Desiderata passage, Madhav needs to learn to “Go placidly amid the noise and haste/ and remember what peace there may be in silence./ As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.” He has to learn to speak (his) truth quietly and clearly. Would this assertiveness be different behaviour from his usual ‘roll my eyes what am I doing with these jerks’ self? Definitely yes. Without this would he be cleared for promotion to country head? Possibly no. At least not by his current bosses. Does this mean that Madhav has to reinvent himself to progress in the system? No. That would be difficult and painful. But he does need to learn new ways of behaving. Key difference.

So, what we need is new behaviour from the same person. In as authentic a manner as possible. Therein lies the rub. Modern neuroscience (please see recent work in emergenesis) that our basic nature, our fundamental ways of thinking and behaving, are, in large measure, genetic, hard-wired. But our early life experiences and day to day actions too mould us. Thus, while our actions often stem from our being, we also act ourselves into new ways of being. We can ‘fake it to make it’. Madhav’s dilemma is a real one. Raghav’s task is to help him adopt new behaviour without feeling fake about it. This can be achieved by chunking up, by sourcing strength from ‘higher principles’. That’s where our ancient systems of Yoga psychology and philosophy can help.

While the meanings of dharma are many and contextual, in a coaching context, it is useful to see dharma as the right thing to do. As opposed to the more expedient best thing. Madhav’s dharma, first and foremost, is to himself. He must ensure his choices are not inimical to basic ethics. Next, his duty to his employer, whose interests he is a custodian of. Is this interest being served by his non-assertive behaviour, by his saying ‘yes’ to everyone, by choosing to keep his views to himself instead of influencing the meeting into a better decision? If the answer to this is ‘no’, then his dharma is clear — he simply has to assert himself and speak up. He is sourcing his actions, not from ego, but from dharma. Simply because it’s the right thing to do. This can give him the courage to act. Because it is without attachment.

Zooming out to Dilts’ iceberg, the behaviour tip of the iceberg may be temporarily out of alignment with the rest — the capability, beliefs and identity pieces. Behaviour has to be dictated by dharma in the context of the environment. It cannot be defined by capabilities and personal values and beliefs. Dharma is contextual to the situation, where it is absolute, not relative to the nature of the person. We need to introspect and identify it. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. Yes, if Madhav is forced to take on behaviours that are ‘not him’, he will be stepping out of his comfort zone. But then, isn’t that the purpose of coaching itself? Over time, as Madhav acts more in accordance with his dharma and, in fact, leverages it, his discomfort will ease. He will cease attaching his nature, which is nothing but his ahankar, to his actions and begin to see behaviour simply as the right thing to do, true nishkama karma. Look Ma, no ego!

A coach can help him discover his dharma in different situations until such time as he begins to recognise it instinctually himself. As coaches, our job is to enable them to take decisions that are in line with their dharma. They will act themselves into a new way of being if that makes them more comfortable.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Atul Mathur

The writer is a coach and an organisational consultant

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