Office politics

By Shweta Chopra

I remember back in 2005 increment letters came as physical copies. You could see the office admin / peon come on the floor, go into your bosses cabin to hand over the bundle of letters for his team. As he passed by the door, we all looked in anticipation at each other waiting to be called in. More than anything, the eyes were fixated on the expressions one had as they walked out of the cabin holding that increment letter.

Well, it was the same every time! Each one looked happy with their bonus letters and sparkle in their eyes as they walked out that cabin, but only until they came to know what their colleagues had got as their increment.

“How can they get a higher bonus and, me these peanuts?”

Once in a while they would storm back to the bosses cabin saying “It’s not fair”. Then, despite every attempt of the boss to explain the evaluation logically; get out convinced that the boss is biased and he favours the other person because he/she is a ‘Yes-man’. Often hurt for not being the ‘chosen one’ of the boss. But many would carry the pain everywhere they went – sharing it with friends, sometimes after the first glass of whisky, with spouses, ex-colleagues and so on.

This should remind us of the story in Hindu mythology that goes something like this.

One day Lord Shiva was relaxing in Mount Kailash when the sage Narada Muni appeared before him. Narada had a golden mango in his hands which he gave to Lord Shiva. Shiva enquired “What is so special about this Mango”. To which Narad replied, “This is the golden mango of knowledge and whoever eats this mango will be granted eternal knowledge and wisdom. However, there is a condition to eating this fruit” he warned. Lord Shiva, who was in the process of cutting the fruit into four pieces stopped. “Tell me Narada, what is the condition to eating this fruit” Lord Shiva asked Narada. With a smirk on his face, Narada replied, “This fruit has to be eaten by only one person”

Shiva, an ascetic who is usually indifferent to worldly things, had to choose to give the Mango to one of his son. The story goes such that Shiva and Narad set up a competition to decide the winner. You may read more about the competition here

The competition announces the winner – Ganesha. The winner made the other son believe that mango was supposed to be given to Shiva’s ‘better son’ – Ganesha. The other son Kartikeya rejected the evaluation method used by his father. He was so angry at being less-preferred.

But the question to ask is – Who gave Shiva the mango for the ‘Better son’? Who told us that a higher bonus was given to our colleagues?

It was Narada, a lute wielding sage who wanders from place to place spreading gossip and making mischief, always chanting the name of God, “Narayana, Narayana.”

The story goes that Narada was amongst the first creations of Brahma. He was born out of Brahma’s thoughts, making him an extremely enlightened creation. He observed the world that his father was creating and noticed it was restless and transforming, going through endless cyclical changes. He concluded it was a meaningless merry-go-round. So he went around telling all of Brahma’s creations, “This world does not matter. You do not matter. Everything changes eventually so nothing really matters.” Hearing him, all living creatures lost their motivation to grow. A furious Brahma cursed Narada. “May you be eternally restless, may you move without pause from one end of this material world to another, making everyone you meet see the value of creation.”

Narada went to Shiva and offered him a mango twisting his words to say, “It is for your ‘better’ son.” That statement made the mango very valuable. And it compelled Shiva to choose between his two sons: Ganesha and Kartikeya. Suddenly the peace of Shiva’s life was shattered. Value had been created. Judgements had to be made. And whatever the judgements, there would be repercussions, for not everyone will see things the same way.

Well, the Narada-phenomenon is universal. Narada continues to be on the prowl even today… be it any organisation, anywhere in the world, and if you find ‘office politics’ know that Narada has been at work. You can sense his presence at almost every office lunch or late night booze party, where invariably, inevitably, someone will provide fodder for enthusiastic conversations about cunning colleagues, unfair promotions, manipulative colleagues, favouritism of bosses and disproportionate salaries.

It is easy to blame Narada for the tensions in our lives. But where from comes the need to indulge in office politics? Does it come from our need to compare? Where from comes our need to be evaluated by the world around us? Is that what is provoking us to struggle and strive in our personal and professional lives – our uncertainty about our self-worth?

Would we listen to Narada if we were self-worthy? Logically speaking, we have the capacity to ignore that information. But we don’t. We are eager to believe gossip. We are eager to believe the worst of others. Peace is boring. Relentless happiness does not make a good story. So we literally invite Narada into our lives, into our offices and homes. We encourage him to give us fodder to stir us into righteous outrage. And he obliges.

What we forget as when we fall for his tricks, Narad watches from the shadows. Is he, in a convoluted way, asking us to have a little faith in ourselves and focus less on what the world thinks of us and more what we can do for the world?

Maybe that’s why he starts and ends the gossip with “Narayana, Narayana,” all the time? Notice, how of all words that leaves Narada’s lips, these two are the least heard.

Illustration by Saahil

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