Crossing the Bridge

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Do we always need to be right?  Most often, it’s better to accept things as they are and move on.

You know that you are a mature person when you can be right without proving the other person wrong.  This way, you can avoid inner conflict because you realize that in the end, inner peace is far more important than proving that you are right.  However, people get lured by their ego to prove themselves right at any cost in order to satiate their egos and in doing so, they forget their primary objective of moving on to get their things done and getting ahead is forgotten!  Haven’t we all heard of the phrase, ‘Winning the battle but losing the war’?  Battles are usually short-term and wars are long-term.  Here battle is a metaphor for proving ourselves right and satisfying the ego, and war is a metaphor for achieving our primary objective and moving on.  However, we have to be doing the right things and not slacken.

The importance of remembering bedtime stories that parents tell their children cannot be more pertinent if we start implementing them in our lives.  One of the stories goes like this: Once there was a village that had a river in between.  The villagers built a narrow bridge to cross it.  One day a goat was crossing the bridge and halfway, it came face to face with another goat that was approaching from the other side.  There wasn’t much space for the two of them to cross one another.  Both the goats waited for the other to turn back but neither of them relented.  One goat said, “I am older than you, so let me pass first.”  The other goat said, “But I came first,” and the arguments led to a bitter fight since neither of them wanted to compromise their positions.  Soon their arguments turned into blows and one goat struck the other with its horns; the other goat retaliated.  The fight became intense and soon both the goats lost their balance; they fell into the river and were washed away by the currents.

After some time, two more goats met in the middle of the bridge, coming from opposite directions.  This time one of the goats thought for a while and said, “The bridge is narrow and both of us cannot cross at the same time, so I will lie down and you carefully walk over me.”  The other goat realized that this was the most sensible thing to do.  He appreciated the other goat’s wisdom.  The wise goat lay on the bridge and the other goat walked over him and both of them reached their other sides.  They were across each other and they were across the bridge.  What mattered more was crossing the bridge and not who crossed first.  The moral of the story is that anger and ego lead to destruction while humility leads to fulfilment.

Akhilesh was a VP – Sales in a company.  In the first quarter of the business calendar, he had not met the sales target on all the five verticals he was looking after – Banking, Insurance, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Education – since business was sluggish.  He was quite confident that he would catch up in the next quarter and perhaps even exceed the target should he receive a sizeable marketing budget.  After all it was a time of global recession and it applied to all businesses uniformly.  He had not slackened but the general mood was not favouring sales.  He was certain that with a little marketing and a good advertising campaign, he would certainly perform well in the next quarter.

In the review meeting to discuss the status of the business, all the heads of departments were present – Marketing, Finance, Operations, HR and IT.  It was Akhilesh’s turn.  He had made a PowerPoint presentation with graphs, excel sheets with numbers and was thorough with the figures in his area of work.  The meeting was going on well when suddenly the CFO said, “Mr. Akhilesh, somehow I get the feeling that you have not done your work well in the manufacturing division.”

Here battle is a metaphor for proving ourselves right and satisfying the ego, and war is a metaphor for achieving our primary objective and moving on.

Akhilesh was not quite prepared for this comment.  He replied, saying, “With so many setbacks in the manufacturing division, which by itself is a tough department to handle, it gets compounded due to the fact that payments are delayed because the finance department had delayed payments due to the party.”  He further added, “You are immensely wrong, Mr. CFO.  You guys sit in flower-bedded seats on the top floor with no clue as to what is taking place in the real world.  You should limit the distance and move to the floor below.”  The CFO was offended and expressed sharp disapproval at the way Akhilesh was handling things as Akhilesh’s rebuke set his head spinning.

The Chairman adjourned the meeting with a coffee break to break the impasse.  However, the mood had not improved after the coffee break and the standoff between the two was palpable. The joie the vivre was lost as well as the focus and the discussion on strategies to move forward.  So strong is the power of negative emotions that it strangulates the very joy of life.  At the beginning of the meeting, everyone was with Akhilesh but after his hostile response and faceoff with the CFO, everyone started agreeing to the CFO’s point of view.  Akhilesh’s marketing budget was further reduced at the end of the meeting.  There were even talks that he would be transferred.

If we consider why things went haywire, the reason is the response of the VP – Marketing to a cursory comment by the CFO that the manufacturing division had not done well.  However, the CFO had indirectly conveyed that the other departments had done well.  Akhilesh had four options in front of him as a response to his assumed transgression by the CFO.

  1. He could have agreed straightaway since what the CFO was saying was a fact.
  2. He could have disagreed politely.
  3. He could have asked the CFO, “Sir, can you kindly help in organizing this?”
  4. He could have smilingly moved to the next point in the agenda without disagreeing. Reacting and wanting to prove that he was right and not being able to deal with the stressful situation proved to be the breaking point for Akhilesh, who was even considering tendering his resignation letter as the best way out.

Just like the goats story, when you are crossing a narrow bridge with an opponent on the other side, it helps to retrace your steps back and allow your opponent to cross, leaving him bemused and you can then cross subsequently.  The sure-fire way to invalidate people who confront you is to agree with them.  This really shakes them and leaves them distracted.  Crossing the bridge is important; it does not matter who crosses first.  It’s not a race.  It’s a point of view.  It’s a perspective.  It’s an attitude.  However, we should always prove to ourselves that we are doing the right thing and keep moving towards our goal.

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