In a recent post I dissected some guidelines for speech. You would have read about some of my experiences growing up, the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” and another saying / quote that also advises on things to be considered before opening one’s mouth. Friday of this past week presented me with an opportunity to really practice what I had preached and, as I mentioned on my Facebook page, the whole thing left me feeling like both Krishna and Arjuna – two quite different roles!
For anyone unfamiliar, Hindus revere a text known as the Bhagavad Gita. It’s essentially a snip-it of a larger text that I wont go into here, but the entire Gita is a war time conversation between Arjuna (who would modernly be considered a very high-ranking military officer) and his chauffer on the battle field, who happens to also be both his cousin and God in disguise. The scene is of an immense battlefield with opposing armies on either side, ready to go. Arjuna asks Krishna to drive him out to the middle of the field so he can see the opposing army. Once there, Arjuna balks – in fact, he does more than just balk. He crumbles into a weak and sobbing mess of a human. The reason for this is that he sees on the opposing army’s side his own relatives and teachers and many people he cares for deeply. He can’t go through with his duty. This is where Krishna/God comes in. Krishna spends the duration of the Gita explaining to Arjuna what it means to be a good human – a truly daunting task for anyone and filled with many hard choices and actions that really are necessary in life. Krishna offers perspective for Arjuna as his mind is scared and his emotions are whirling around uncontrolled. In a very fancy and cosmic revelation experience, Krishna literally shows Arjuna the bigger picture – the WHOLE bigger picture. The guidance and the revelation are enough to knock some sense into the up-till-then underdeveloped Arjuna.
Now fast forward thousands of years and you’ll find me in my office dealing with a number of coworkers who all feel very torn about our shared situation. That situation is one in which our Team Lead is quite abusive within the work environment. This has been going on for quite some time, in fact far too long. The torn feelings can be divided onto one hand where this form of workplace violence has become intolerable and the other hand where the one being abusive happens to also be a fairly superior go-to person for just about anything that the department faces. In the past, a few complaints have been filed but the only discernible results of those complaints is that this Lead finds out who made the complaint and then makes their work life even more of a hell than it was before. Eventually, people would say enough is enough and attempt transferring to another department or would leave the company altogether, with nothing ever improving. Around one year ago the department saw a mass exodus of sorts. It happened somewhat gradually over a few months, but when it was finished all but two or three employees had left the department, with the Lead being one of the two or three staying put. Myself and a handful of others were the new life that grew from those ashes and have since become the face of the department. All change in personnel aside, the abuse is still well-known, well-documented, and quite visible.
So where does all this about feeling like Krishna and Arjuna come into play?
Incrementally, I found myself becoming the sage of the department. I’ve never really been picked on by this Lead, which seems to put me in a position of favor and makes others wonder how I managed that. Additionally, I have had the balls to establish a fairly direct and honest relationship with the Lead, so that when her bullshit starts aiming itself at me I bring attention to it and put a stop to it before I am battered or bruised. This actually has forged a slightly different and more even relationship with the abusive Lead, the result of which has been that I’ve been privy to some of her behind-the-scenes language and behavior, something most don’t see and which I shouldn’t have to see. And then there are the myriad casual discussions I’ve had with my peers wherefrom they have come to recognize me as a local oracle (you know what I mean). So, in a way, I’m the Krishna of my department. As this form of workplace violence has shown its face, and people came to me for guidance, I counseled them on doing the right thing as defined by their particular station in life / work. In each of these conversations, I encouraged my peers that they MUST do what they SHOULD do. I try to help them through the fear of retaliation. I point them to the immense value found in their own personhood and as an asset to the company. Ultimately, I have counseled each of these people to make sure they’re aware of what their personal dharma is, as a person and an employee, and to not be afraid to fully act on that awareness. During these moments their behavior is very “Arjunish.”
On the flip side, things really came to a boil this past week with one employee in particular. He really was at his wit’s end and very quickly running out of patience for the abuse. He and I chatted about this at length, as we had done many times in the past. He did some research on workplace violence and even emailed his father for advice. His father’s words mirrored what I had already told him and he made the decision to take his concerns to our manager / HR (and risk becoming an even bigger punching bag in the process). He had but one request: that I accompany him to this meeting. Suddenly, I’m facing the other side of this coin, where I’m now Arjuna.
Like Arjuna facing his peers and family and teachers on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, I knew what I stood to lose by going on record against this Lead. And yet, my decision was crystal clear: I knew what was right for me to do and I knew avoiding my dharma in this context would be irresponsible, immature, and cowardly.
So this peer of mine secured a meeting with our manager and as nervous and unsettled about the whole thing as I was (as we both were), I honored his request to accompany him. I played my role to the best of my ability, well aware of how uncomfortable it all was, and very well aware that our words might be the straw that “breaks the camel’s back” so far as the Lead’s employment is concerned. (By her own admission, she’s already on final written warning. And by her own admission if “one more person goes to HR” on her then she’ll be fired.) In our meeting we did exactly what we came to the meeting to do. There were moments when it flowed more smoothly than others, but the whole thing was unfortunate and necessary. At the end of it, our manager assured us that while he would need a few days to get the ball rolling, “changes would be made” and that our incident report would not go unnoticed. He also advised us that probably next week sometime HR would likely want to speak to both of us about this.
So there you have it in just about 1400 words. My “Krishnarjuna” experience. The lesson here is that regardless of how uncomfortable it might make me, regardless of the resultant loss I might experience and the comfort I would forfeit, regardless of the betrayal the Lead would associate with my role in all this, regardless of everything, the only responsible choice was for me to stand and speak for truth and for dharma on its various levels (swadharma, ashrama dharma, varna dharma and maybe even Rta). I hope I’m strong enough to face the task the next time it presents itself and I pray each of us is able to do this whenever it’s our turn to do so.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha