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Pause, Reflect and Respond: Emotional Intelligence from the Panchatantra

Posted in Managing our emotions by Rashmi Datt on July 20th, 2011

 In nineteenth century India, when it was not unusual for children to be married off, a young girl was just getting used to her new, equally young partner. The immature bridegroom had no idea of the rights and role of a husband, so he bought some pamphlets containing chauvinistic advice to men to dominate their wives.  Thus informed, the boy called his wife and commanded, ‘Henceforth, you will not go out of this house without my permission.’

An Unruffled Response

 Doubtless the girl was taken aback at what was surely an absurd and capricious demand. But she resisted the temptation to sulk or fight back. She just nodded. She would find a solution which would send the right message, but without damaging the fledgling relationship.

A few days later, her lord and master realised that she had flouted his rule and gone out of the house to the temple and to the market, visiting friends and relatives. ‘How dare you disobey my orders?’ he sharply rebuked her that evening.

 Answering with an even tone, the wise wife asked softly, ‘Who is senior in this house? Are you superior to your mother? Should I tell her that I will not go out with her until you give me permission? If that is what you want, let me know.’

 This is the story of Mohandas Gandhi and Kasturba in the earliest days of their marriage. She was so calm and collected that Gandhi had no answer. It was his first lesson in non-violence! He never questioned her again.

 We all encounter our own versions of unreasonable people- an unresponsive colleague, a difficult boss, an uncooperative neighbour. Often our reaction is ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. We either swallow our feelings and avoid the issue, or sometimes erupt with anger. Neither helps.

Wise Conduct from the Panchatantra

 The Panchatantra , a part of India’s ancient storytelling tradition, is a collection of delightful fables which mostly revolve around animal characters. The stories dwell on Nitishastra, or wise conduct in life, and show how an unexpected pitfall or a problem is tackled. In some, the lesson is taught through loss. The characters meet their end because they could not regulate their actions, which arose out of fear, insecurity or greed. Other stories demonstrate how the emotionally balanced are able to triumph against all odds because they do not allow calamities to fog their intellect, feel neither distressed in adversity nor exuberant in prosperity, gauge the right and wrong time for saying things, develop the resilience to bounce back from a fall, persevere when a door is slammed on them, and are willing to listen to seemingly unpleasant advice. The tales state unequivocally that practical wisdom and commonsense, which come from internal self-regulation, are more important than mere scholarship (IQ).

 My book ‘Emotional Intelligence- The Panchatantra way’, talks about handling life’s challenges with the same emotional intelligence as the Panchatantra characters.

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