In the great epic Mahabharata, there is an interesting event of a psychological interplay between Shalya and Karna. This article delves into that intriguing space where some of us may be driven by our darkest fears or insecurities, therefore not able to unleash our true potential. India's great epics offer valuable insights for the management world.
The epic Mahabharata is about a great war fought between the cousins Kauravas and Pandavas. The Pandavas fought for re-establishing dharma (righteousness) because of the misdeeds and injustice meted out to them by Kauravas. Shalya was the maternal uncle of the Pandavas and had naturally wanted to lend his support to Pandavas. He was tricked into supporting Kauravas by Duryodhana, the eldest brother of the Kauravas. The story goes that as Shalya was travelling along with his army to meet the Pandavas, the Kauravas provided refreshments to Shayla and his army. Shalya assuming that it was the Pandavas, promised them an unwavering support. He was shocked when he realized he had been deceived. He however chose to uphold his word and fight against his own nephews (Pandavas). Shalya was asked to serve as a charioteer for Karna, a great archer who fought on the side of Kauravas. This was done to match the prowess of Arjuna, an excellent archer amongst Pandavas whose charioteer was none other than Krishna.
The Mind Game
When Karna rode out into the battlefield, Shalya played a devious mind game on Karna. Not only would he praise the skills of Arjuna every time they faced each other but also undermined the capabilities of Karna. Despite being an archer of great prowess, this constant admiration and comparison with Arjuna demoralized Karna. Karna’s attention got diverted from focusing on Arjuna to doubting his capabilities, arguing and fighting with Shalya. This was exactly what Shalya wanted. He kept praising Arjuna and made Karna insecure to such an extent that Karna forgot how to use his most powerful weapon and he was finally defeated by Arjuna.
Shalya became Karna’s biggest liability. This is perhaps a great example of the psychological game, where the opponent is made to become nervous and lose confidence before the action. During the war, the warrior and the charioteer, despite being two individuals are expected to be an inseparable unit. In spite of being equal to Arjuna, Karna got defeated because of the constant clamor seeded by Shalya about his weaknesses. Let us extend this analogy of Karna and Shalya to our real Life.
While you are fighting the war of your life, who is playing Shalya? Who is the one constantly putting you down? Shalya could be the “little voice” in your head which at times makes you look at the problem bigger than it might seem to be. Shalya can be those people you are surrounded with – who always highlight your weaknesses or undermine your potential.
While it is good to weigh all the pros and cons before we take an action, but is the little voice inside you not allowing you to act at all? Are you bogged down by negative people around you because of which you are unable to tap into your true strengths? Do you feel weak already before putting up a fight? Do you, at times have those “Shalya” moments where you feel “stuck” instead of focusing on Arjuna?
What can one do to overcome such situations?
1- Recollect your moments of strengths
Recall instances in your life where you may have found a task too daunting or challenging but you actually ended up doing it really well. Recollect the positive energy you experienced when you turned around things in an adverse situation. Use the repository of that potential energy into a kinetic force to tackle your current challenges. A lot of achievements are born out of initial uncertainty or doubt. Let it not overwhelm you. Similarly, do not focus a lot on past failures. Have faith in your strengths & build on it.
2- Learn from your mistakes
We often doubt our abilities because we don’t want to make any room for mistakes. However, mistakes are opportunities for us to learn and grow. As humans, we all make mistakes. Let it not hold you back from taking a leap and trying again. Look at the challenging situation as a stepping-stone instead of a brick wall. Learn to mitigate self-doubt and fear of failure by being kind with self, irrespective of the outcomes.
3- Be mindful about your thoughts
At times when negative thoughts creep in, it becomes difficult to identify and distinguish them because they have almost become a part of us. This can lead us to believing in them. The next time you get such thoughts, challenge them by asking - are these thoughts really true? Are they relevant? And can you reframe and replace them with positive ones.
4-Look out for that grain of truth
It may be possible that your worst critic have some element of truth in what they say. Some may have valuable suggestions, but their tone and style of speaking may appear confrontational. Hence it becomes important to focus on their suggestion than the tone. Reflect, if you want to make some personal changes. Thank the ones who offers you meaningful feedback.
5 - Be in the company of supportive people
We are surrounded by different types of people and few of them may thrive by putting others down. If possible, you can consider cutting off interactions with the ones who have a pattern of offering only negative criticism. Be in the company of friends and family members who believe in you and your capabilities. Company of reassuring people will help you build resilience when you are a little unsure. They will remind you of your talent and potential, than the ones who will talk negative and pull you down.
6- Ask yourself, are you fighting for the right cause?
Take a moment to assess your values. What is it that matters most to you? Are you fighting for the right cause? Are you contributing to something meaningful in your life? Going back to the story, let’s not forget that Karna was fighting on the wrong side of Dharma whereas Arjuna was fighting for Dharma. Secondly, Arjuna had Krishna as his charioteer, who steadfastly stood beside him and brought out the best in him. Who would you want as your charioteer?
Each one of us have limitless possibilities waiting to be untapped. Don’t allow your internal or external voices to become an obstacle-
As you are fighting the war of your life, it is time to reflect, who is driving your chariot?