More important than knowing how to make good decisions is knowing when to make those decisions. And more important than knowing when to make decisions is knowing when not to make them! Here are four circumstances in the Mahabharata that reveal how decisions ought not be made.
1. Fear driven decisions
The tortoise shell protects as long as the shell is above it, but as soon as it flips over, the tortoise flaps around helplessly. Similarly, a person who takes decisions out of fear flaps around just like this tortoise and takes stubborn, abrupt steps. In the Mahabharata, Ashwathama when cornered by the Pandavas, took the most foolish decision of unleashing the deadly Brahmastra capable of destroying the whole world. This decision stemmed from his intense fear and need for his own security. The Brahmastra was meant to obscure his fear and create fear and insecurity for Pandavas, which ultimately backfired.
2. Affinity driven decisions
A cloth hung on a hook tears apart when pulled away forcefully. Just like the cloth, those who take decisions based on unnatural affinity to people they are hooked to, get torn apart! In the Mahabharata, since Karna’s each and every decision was based on his assumed affinity to his friend Duryodhana, he was torn apart between his loyalty to dharma and that to his friendship. The friendship hook gripped him tight and when decisions had to be taken, his dharma was torn apart.
3. Grief-driven decisions
A drop of ink on a blotting paper spreads and pervades the paper. Similarly, when grief falls into the blotting paper of the uncontrolled mind, it percolates into every aspect of life. In the Mahabharata, Gandhari made two decisions blinded by extreme grief and ended up with large-scale destruction. When she realized that Kunti gave birth before her, she struck her womb in envy transferring the spirit of envy into the lives of her hundred sons. Another time, she concluded that Krsna was the cause of death of her children, and cursed destruction of His Yadu dynasty.
4. Joy driven decisions
A hilarious joke triggers uncontrollable laughter causing tears to roll out. The tears indicate that one has gone out of balance. Just like the body has a check and balance mechanism, life should also be based on a similar check and balance mechanism. Often the most crucial decisions are taken on a high when there is too much joy or success. When the head is in the clouds, it is difficult to judge ground realities.
In the Mahabharata, the king of Virata was flying high on hearing that his son Uttara had defeated the Kauravas in a battle. His joy was overflowing such that he disregarded and even humiliated Yudhishthira. When decisions are taken in a fit of joy, they bring sorrow into life.
Making timely decisions is a critical skill. Equally critical is the decision of not making a decision.
Fear drives you to take abrupt steps out of insecurity, which ultimately backfire.
Decisions based on extreme affinity tear you away from the path of dharma.
Grief makes you blind, and decisions made in grief can end up causing large-scale destruction; whereas decisions coming from joy are unbalanced, unchecked, and can result in sorrow.
(The writer is an author, Tedx speaker, story-teller, corporate trainer and visiting faculty in several premier management schools)