On a balanced life…

கோடாமை சான்றோர்க் கணி.

मध्ये स्थिता तुला द्रव्यं न्यायतस्तुलयेद्यथा ।
तथा निष्पक्षपातित्वं माध्यस्थं लक्षणं सताम् ॥ (११८)

To be unbiased like a balanced weighing scale, is a quality of great men.

Impartiality – being just and fair. Tiruvalluvar says that தகுதி எனவொன்று நன்றே பகுதியால்பா ற்பட்டு ஒழுகப் பெறின் – Thakudhi Enavondru Nandre Pakudhiyaal Paarpattu Ozhukap Perin – to be just is to act impartially towards enemies, strangers and friends.

This is easier said than done. We would always tend to favour or be biased towards our friends, and against our enemies. Valluvar says that such men are few, who are able to act as a balanced weighing scale, being impartial to all and deciding on the right course of action solely based on merit and merit alone.

A question may arise as you read this. How is this relevant to me? These qualities may be required in a king, or in present times, a judge in a court. We normal human beings have our fallacies, our biases, and while the ideal scenario would be that what Valluvar describes, in reality, this may not happen, given our deep-rooted biases and favouritism. So how do we implement these teachings in real life?

Part of the answer is given by Tiruvalluvar himself, in the 120th Kural.

வாணிகம் செய்வார்க்கு வாணிகம் பேணிப்
பிறவும் தமபோல் செயின்.

अन्येषामपि वस्तूनि स्वकीयानीव पश्यता ।
क्रियते यत्‍तु वाणिज्यं तद्‍वाणिज्यमितीर्यते ॥ (१२०) 

Those businessmen prosper, whose business protects as their own the interests of others.

Contemporary management speaks of the “competitive edge”, schools are all about promoting competition – today’s world is all about winning at any cost. This “winner-takes-all” attitude is detrimental to the society, argues Tiruvalluvar. You win, and I win too, is an approach that makes a more balanced and happy society.

What applies in business also applies to other spheres of life. While we may not be judges in a courtroom, we do make a lot of decisions in daily life. For instance, when we go shopping.

Do we bargain at an Apple store? We don’t. Why then, do we bargain when we go to purchase vegetables at the Sunday market?

The reason we do that is leverage – we know that we don’t have an option at the Apple Store, but we do have leverage over the vegetable-seller, who lives on what he earns daily. He would be more desperate to sell, and hence more willing to agree to a bargain. This is not fair on our part. If you can pay the right price elsewhere, you should also be willing to pay the vegetable-seller a fair price for his goods.

When we purchase clothes, do we take into consideration whether the brand has a fair-price policy for it’s vendors? Do they operate sweatshops? If so, a just decision on our part would be not to buy from them, and instead, promote a brand that pays its workers fairly, and doesn’t resort to unjust and exploitative practices.

These are just two examples, but I hope that you understand what I am getting at. Justice doesn’t have to imply being fair on large life-and-death decisions only, justice is about being fair, and you can follow these principles in daily life, by treating everyone fairly, regardless of their social stature or where they are from. And people will know you by this attitude, when you are gone. The rest – your degrees, your wealth, your houses and property – all stay behind.