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Hiren Surendra Shah

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Careers in Ancient times
by Hiren Surendra Shah   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, October 19, 2007
Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007

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This article was published in the magazine “Management compass” in August’2007. It compares the career options of Ancient India, China, Greece and the muslime world to the modern situation.


Philosophers since ancient times have doubled as counselors, advising
on the need to get into right role

By Hiren Shah

The rise of Mayawati to the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh is attributed to caste more than anything else. Although a Dalit leader, she openly talked of being able to woo the Brahmins in her fold as one of the reasons of her success. Since one of the main purposes of education is to enable one to manage situations, one cannot help but wonder “How does one define talent for politics?” Sons of filmstars and cricket stars have to prove themselves but in politics, since there is no entry barrier and no direct accountability after being elected for a period of five years, family members of politicians can join anytime. One gets to hear ridiculous things like a girl who had become temporarily popular for refusing dowry being considered for a political career or actor Shilpa Shetty being considered likewise because of getting popular in a UK television show. Is governance such a simple matter and should not merit be extended to all careers?

Lack of meritocracy has caused spiralling problems. The reservations in educational institutions for scheduled castes and tribes stirred a hornet’s nest where students were up in arms because of their career prospects being adversely affected. Even in the recent agitation in Rajasthan, the Gujjar community was demanding a scheduled caste status because of the privileges involved. It is strange that somebody should want to be a scheduled tribe. Even internationally, President George Bush’s Presidential credentials have been questioned by several prominent Americans after the Iraq war fiasco. There are many books written on how miscasting of people causes agony to both individuals and the company in the corporate world. Whether it is a company or a country, people in the wrong occupation are a cause of serious concern both for themselves and society.

All this makes one wonder about the system of merit and management in ancient times. The classes of society given in the Hindu scriptures were: Brahmana (scholarly community — teachers, scholars and doctors), Kshatriya (warriors and rulers or politicians community), Vaishya (mercantile and artisan community) and Shudra (service providing community). The original caste system was envisaged on talent and temperament, as the following passage from the Bhagvad Gita suggests:

“The duties of a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra are prescribed according to their particular modes of nature. One should not imitate another’s duty. A man who is by nature attracted to the kind of work done by shudras should not artificially claim to be a brahmana, although he may have been born into a brahmana family. The occupational duty of a brahmana is certainly in the mode of goodness, but if a person is not by nature in the mode of goodness, he should not imitate the occupational duty of a brahmana. For a kshatriya, or administrator, there are so many abominable things; a kshatriya has to be violent to kill his enemies, and sometimes a kshatriya has to tell lies for the sake of diplomacy. Such violence and duplicity accompany political affairs, but a kshatriya is not supposed to give up his occupational duty and try to perform the duties of a brahmana. That is not recommended. Whether one is a kshatriya, a vaishya, or a shudra doesn’t matter, if he serves, by his work, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

In the Hindu Shastras, the word “Svadharma” is used to define one’s vocation or calling. The word literally means ‘what is right for an individual’ or ‘One’s own way’ which should determine his caste or occupation. The word “Paradharma” is used for other’s work. The Bhagvad Gita also describes Yoga as excellence in one’s work, which is not possible without being in the right occupation which was also dependent on whether one represents Sattva (Purity), Rajas (activity) or Tamsic (inertness). Many people believe that the original caste system was distorted by vested interests to suit their own objectives.

There are other ancient civilisations too which speak of meritocracy and individual interest. According to a study done by American psychologists Frank Dumon and Andrew Carlson, meritocracy existed in ancient Greece for each individual to distinguish himself. The Greek, and particularly the Athenian, approach to vocation emphasised the individual. The great philosopher Plato stressed that the development of vocation starts in childhood. This corroborates the modern world, where as a solution to work misfits, the vocational psychologist often asks this question “What was your interest as a child?” Plato also insisted that each person do his own work the way the Bhagvad Gita had suggested. Plato had suggested that determining one’s calling was by no means an easy task and two thousand years later, still remains a difficult task

The study discusses vocational psychology in Ancient China and throws light on two ancient philosophies — Taoism and Confucianism. According to Taoism, “There are great risks in trying to impose a rigid, systematic method of vocational decision making on oneself or others. It states that each living creature and each thing, even if apparently inanimate, derives its own power of specificity from the Tao or the way and so the good life is the life that is lived according to one’s true nature. Confucianism also stresses on aptitudes and abilities and not the ephemeral concept of Tao. In both approaches, the best vocational choice is one which contributes most to the social good through wise assignment of variously talented individuals to the structure of needs within a rationally planned state.

Another study done by professor Andrew Carlson and professor Altai reflects on vocational psychology. Some of the best literature on vocational psychology in ancient Islam can be traced to Rasa’il Ikhwan
al-Safa wa-Khulln al-Wafa (Ikhwan al-Safa or Treaties of the Brothers of Purity better known as TBP.) The TBP classifies occupations in seven categories — artisans and craftsmen, businessmen and traders, construction engineers and workers, kings and politicians, employees and daily workers, disabled and unemployed and men of religion and scholars.

According to TBT, some people take naturally to a job, some may learn from the others and some may not learn at all. It is all dependent on individual capacities and vocational interests and some desires. It states “Some people have deep desires to learn crafts and occupations, and they feel satisfaction with their field. Some people desire to work with grammar, poetry, to speak and to talk, and are satisfied with fields that permit this”.

The words “deep desire” mentioned find their echo today in Harvard Business School researchers Dr Timothy Butler, director of MBA career development programs, and Dr James Waldroop, who use the word “Deeply embedded life interest”. Former international HRD consultants Morgan and Banks used the word “Deep interest”. All the ancient systems stress on both individual and social good. In recent history, well known author Dale Carnegie said in his book — How to Stop Worrying and Start Living —fifty years ago that people in the wrong jobs are the biggest wastages of industrial society. From individual perspective, Carnegie stated “Nobody is to be pitied as the man who gets nothing out of his work but his pay” and “Every man is a gambler when he chooses his
vocation”.

Carnegie apart, Abraham Maslow, whose hierarchy of needs is taught in business schools all over the world, has this to say about self-actualisation: “Peak experiences are profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, when a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world, more aware of truth, justice, harmony, goodness, and so on. Self-actualising people have many such peak experiences. Not only are these his happiest and most thrilling moments, but they are also moments of greatest maturity, individuation, fulfilment — in a word, his healthiest moments. He becomes in these episodes more truly himself, more perfectly actualising his potentialities, closer to the core of his Being, more fully human. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write. If these needs are not met, the person feels restlessness, on edge, tense, and lacking something.”

However as pointed out above, even 2000 years after Plato, the solution to this problem
eludes mankind, as can be gauged by the titles of some of the books below:

Passion at Work: How to Find Work You Love and Live the
Time of Your Life by Lawler Kang

Do What You Love: The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood by Marsha Sinetar

Mankind has made great strides in the external world and outer space. One can only hope that man is equally successful in traversing the inner space someday both for individual and collective good. The spirit of some of the ancient times should be adapted to current requirements. Certain basic needs are relevant for all irrespective of cultures and times and are worth striving for.
 

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