No failure is absolute (Column: The Third Eye)

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New Delhi: It is a great tribute to the profession of Intelligence that it interprets ‘failure’ as ‘an honest effort that did not succeed’ and does not allow ‘fear of failure’ to come in the way of a constant untiring pursuit.

This can very much be an appropriate guide for everybody’s life except for the fact that what is ‘professional’ in many ways is not the same as ‘personal’ – for it did not take into account the multiple dimensions of private life that were impacted by a ‘perceived’ failure there.

In personal life sometimes the outcome of an effort may not meet the ambition, expectations and psychological orientation of the person and it is in such a situation that the individual’s attitudes and responses would be subject to the variables that are naturally built into the human life.

Without seeking to ‘standardise’ human behaviour, however, it can be said that there is significant scope for ‘learning’ on how to approach the question of facing a ‘disappointing’ outcome of all the labour put in by a person in pursuit of an objective.

The basic paradigms here would be the ‘awareness’ of the relative strength one had been able to muster before presuming ‘success’, a ‘conviction’ about the ‘legitimacy of the pathway’ adopted and a broader outlook on life’s mandate that there would always be some imponderables to be handled by the individual on his or her own. These may be examined in some depth. Certainly outside of the area under one’s control, there may be plenty happening to influence the outcome of a personally driven project.

The first learning one could have from the profession of Intelligence is that the ‘quality’ of work and the ‘degree’ of effort made was always constant even when the task related to the organisation and not to one’s personal domain.

There is nothing wanting in terms of determination, diligence and a ‘mission mode’ pursuit of the official task in an Intelligence organisation – the motivation there was kept up by the thought that a contribution was being made to the national good and sustained by a further confidence that credits due would come to the person on their own. This is an ideal setting but there is no reason why a well-meaning organisation that cares for ‘productivity’ would not try to perfect the ‘management practices’ indicated here.

I recall telling the Prime Minister whom I served – it was in some context of outcome evaluation – that the Intelligence Bureau was perhaps the only organisation of the government where senior officers worked for up to sixteen hours a day ‘without being asked’.

Loyalty to the country in the higher plane, to the organisation as the tangible entity in the immediate and above all to one’s own value system embracing humanity that acted as the individual’s driver, could all come into play together in creating what certainly would become an ideal worth following. This is definitely not utopian.

It is good to have ambition but with a healthy awareness of one’s own wherewithal in terms of personal acumen and external resources forthcoming for deciding on a pursuit. Ambition presages effort and effort has to be definitive in so far as the understanding of the ultimate objective and the direction of action is concerned.

A logical mind and the new age requirement of being well-informed are of prime importance today.

In this era of social media, one has to steer clear of ‘misinformation’ verging on ‘fraudulent’ offers in the areas of academics, business and partnerships of various kinds. Ignorance is no excuse or defence and it is advisable not to be too trusting in today’s world. It is important to remember, however, that ‘excellence’ achieved in any work or activity will bring value both in personal satisfaction and material gain.

In the environment of ‘competition’ that seems to have become pervasive, one had to strive to become a ‘peak performer’ in any sphere. If it is possible to have a pursuit that falls in the area of one’s interest and strength, nothing would be better for this combination would produce the best results of the labour put in. One need not take a beaten path because under the sky there are avocations available that would suit one’s genius and inclinations.

Qualifications do matter but the work environment must help to bring out one’s best and since this made all the difference in a competitive business, clarity about ‘organisational ethics’ is becoming important in attracting talent, enhancing ‘productivity’ and retaining the employee’s loyalty.

‘Quality of life’ has always been considered a thing of value even when some of it remained an abstraction. It has acquired a newfound importance considering that ‘man does not live by bread alone’.

The advancement of human thought has taken this further in the direction of the search for the right balance between the spiritual and the temporal.

Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of Hinduism known for enunciating precepts for universal application, pithily observes that one should pursue a duty with full application and devotion without being distracted by the thought of the results. It mandates that there should be no ‘fear of failure’ if the pursuit was otherwise in moral parameters called ‘Dharma’. This is the most powerful precept for success in life. It is also a great equaliser in terms of defining the ‘quality’ of work regardless of the nature of engagement implying that there was no ‘high’ or ‘low’ in work so long as there was a conscious attempt at seeking to perform on a note of ‘excellence’. This is a subtle way of introducing higher thinking in the handling of work howsoever mundane it might be.

Indian civilisation has further given a great gift to humanity by way of presenting a unifying idea of ‘God being one even if there were multiple paths of worship’. The importance of ‘faith’ in Hinduism lies in the fact that it produces a ‘culture’ that unites and not divides people – because it is assimilative and not ‘supremacist’ or ‘exclusivist’.

Hinduism does not prescribe strict ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ – which are a characteristic feature of many faiths – leaving enough spiritual freedom for seeking personal advancement. It helps to maintain equanimity even in adverse circumstances and care for a balance in material pursuits and the higher values of life.

A good measure of a life of ‘success’ would be the degree to which one was able to retrospectively look at life’s journey without letting it be overshadowed by ‘regrets’. A satisfaction that one did one’s duty and honestly strove for a perceived ‘mission’ defined a life ‘well lived’ – there would always be some moments in the recall that suggested that things could have been done differently but they need not become the moments of regret.

One should believe that any individual life can be the base of an engaging story only if can be recorded well and also that no two lives can be exactly the same. This is reason enough to value your life as a singular experience.

There is something about being born with a silver spoon but by and large one’s life is a story of the individual’s conscious effort to carve a meaningful experience out of it, feel morally upright and in the final analysis prove to be ‘a giver, not taker’.

A larger understanding of life as a one-time event – the theory of rebirth is an open issue- and as a play of ‘human interaction’ as well as a mix of happy and unhappy moments, is necessary to make things simple. At some level life is a challenge to be negotiated and the capacity to ride a change instead of succumbing to it runs through a successful life.

Life symbolises activity for one’s own upkeep, for others or for some ‘cause’ and so long as time was well spent on this, it was a life ‘lived well’ which made it a success story.

In the profession of security, ‘failure’ is attributable to the absence of ‘information’, flawed ‘communication’ or an inability to come up with adequate ‘action’ or response.

There is learning from this since in the Age of Information we live in today, success is mandated on being ‘well-informed’, on being able to have ‘timely communication’ with all concerned and on being prepared to take ‘prompt action’ to avail of an ‘opportunity’ or mitigate a ‘risk’ appearing on the horizon.

In handling responsibilities at the workplace, fulfilling social obligations and even managing the family as its head, this competence on the three fronts – knowledge, conversation and response can decide if success would be forthcoming.

The plea of ‘destiny’ can be invoked to gain some personal solace when the anticipated outcome of a move made did not come about but in most situations, there would be a reason why this happened and this would include the imponderables that were part of life, as already mentioned.

One should learn to believe that no failure is absolute and that a further pursuit with necessary ‘course correction’ was nature’s rule of law to reward the individual with success. Uncertainties are a part of life but one can work with a fair presumption that nature- if not the human beings – would find a way of rewarding merit.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)



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