In the last post I briefly outlined how believing in “merit” shapes the way we look at the world. How the moment we start comparing ourselves with the people around us can create a deep sense of anxiety. What if we would believe in our dharma, our duty? Would this help to look at work and life with more compassion? Be more forgiving towards us, if things don’t turn out as expected? Let’s find out.
Dharma can be understood as the principle or law of the universe, as a driving force, which uplifts and supports us. Something that if followed will make us happy. Sounds promising. But how does this dharma thing work?
Imagine a typical situation at work:
One morning you sit at your desk. You are thinking hard about a problem, which kept bothering you for years. All of the sudden you have a beautiful insight. You start to work like a driven lunatic, words and pictures, diagrams just flows out of you. Some days later you decide to share your ideas. Your superiors, many of the colleagues you present the idea to, look at you with empty eyes. No comprehension whatsoever. No support. No interest in trying to understand what you are desperately trying to tell them.
Crushed you go back to your desk. Your inspiration, motivation, energy, all gone. Disintegrated into nothingness. After a weekend and some good sleep you realize that your first idea wasn’t that good. Inspiration hits you again. You get back on your feet and think: “I’m sure that THIS time they will LOVE my proposal!”
And the cycle starts again.
In this story believing in merit means, that the failure to convince colleagues and superiors about your idea, is experienced as a personal failure. It’s considered a failure, because this particular work environment accords status to people, who are successful in selling their ideas to their superiors. A situation often found in product development companies.
How can you put an end to the endless cycle of inspiration and desperation? By giving up? Not if you believe in your dharma. Dharma is this driving force, which uplifts, supports you. If having good ideas, trying to push boundaries, creating beautiful things, is what keeps you going in the first place, giving this one thing up won’t help you. This magic ability you have makes you unique, is your present to the world, to yourself, to the people around you. This might be your dharma.
In his interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, E. Eswaran uses the following story to explain the concept of dharma: A sage, living on the shores of river Ganges, notices a scorpion has fallen into the water. He reaches down, rescues it, only to be stung. A bystander, observing this, exclaims: “Holy sage. Why are you doing this? Don’t you see, that this wretched creature will only sting you in return? “ “Of course,” the sage replied. “It is the scorpion’s dharma to sting. But it is the dharma of a human being to save.”
So what will bring more happiness? Believing in dharma or believing in merit?
Being stung by a scorpion at work does not sound like a healthy road to happiness. There are only so many stings we can survive. Perfecting our skills to become the “best” in order to get all the merit we deserve, will probably end in a burnout.
I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. Thanks to meritocracy we gained more freedom how we want to live our lives. But this freedom comes with a price. We have to find our dharma on our own. In Hinduism dharma also means duty and is closely linked to the caste system. When Krishna tells Arjuna that he is a warrior and should behave like one, he is also telling him that he should accept the caste he was born into. A concept I have difficulties to accept, having grown up in a society with tons of freedom.
Maybe it’s like this:
Through meritocracy we managed to get rid of the caste system of aristocracy. Then, again through meritocracy, we created an imaginary caste system based on status. A system, which to a large extend influences how we act and feel at work.
Only if we manage to connect to our true, individual dharma, will we be able to change our work environment, our selves.
But while trying to find our dharma, we have to stay alert, take small steps. Because following the wrong dharma will probably create an even worse caste system.