Humpty Dumpty had a great fall – but, why?

As usual, Abi’s face peeped out of the slowly opening front door and I waited for her usual peeved dialogue “why so late from office”? But today she seemed nervous and indicated me to go with her to the bedroom as she had to say something to me.

“I am scared, Ma. I know you will be unhappy with me and scold me” and immediately my mind started its guesswork on what she may have done wrong – broken something, lost something, fought with someone etc.

“Today teacher showed us our class test marks and I got 37/40 in Hindi and 35/40 in Maths?” she said with a desolate and puffed up face.

I mentally heaved a sigh of relief and said “is that all, why do you think I would be angry with you? 35 and 37 out of 40 is not a bad score.”

“What do you mean it’s OK? I am so unhappy I didn’t get 40/40 like my friend xxx.”

“Well, I have never scolded you for getting poor marks. And please don’t look at what your friends have got. Some would have scored more and some less, which is perfectly fine. More important that you should understand the subjects well, after all you may get 40/40 and still not be really knowledgeable, and that’s what would make me sad” I tried to explain.

“So, is it ok if I get 10/40 next time? I don’t believe you. I know that you are angry and saying this only to make me happy” she said plunking her head into a pillow.

Oh God, I thought, it’s one of those days! I was not angry with her, had no 100% expectations from a 7 year old, and here she was with all her performance rating woes!

“Guddi, promise I am not angry with you and why should I be? You have done your bit by studying hard and that’s good enough”

“But why did I not get 40/40?” she flashed her face up, writ with anger and woe simultaneously.

“That’s for you to answer. Instead of fretting over why you did not get 40/40, it would be better if you go through the mistakes you did, learn them right and not repeat them. Also try to spend time in learning things better next time instead of watching cartoons on TV” I couldn’t resist the chance of referring to TV watching, but as I was speaking to her, my mind went to how often we behave like children in our professional lives. We all want top ratings, we do not want to accept our failings, we feel bad and sad after the results are out and we mop over the outcomes for days till the next performance cycle and the story repeats itself. Do we ourselves not have a totally outcome based view rather than trying to enjoy what we do and try to do it well. Do we not worry about our colleagues getting better ratings and hike %s? How often do we have the grace to go back to assessing what went wrong and why and take necessary corrective action? How many of us have the grace to accept that others have got better ratings or hikes simply because they may have performed better and we too have an equal chance to do better next time. After all isn’t the journey a lot better than the final destination?

I hugged her and tried to console her saying “Don’t worry too much, kutti! Let’s try to prepare better next time. Cheer up”

My drama queen went on “I am never going to be happy again! Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and all the king’s horses and men could not put him together again!”

Here we go again I thought, not knowing whether to laugh or cry! Thankfully, chocolates and Shahrukh’s Chennai express on TV helped my Humpty Dumpty feel better in 15 mins!

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Was lack of Constructive Feedback a factor in Shishupala’s death?

feedbackThe mythological story goes thus – A relatively minor character in the Mahabharata, Shishupala was born with three eyes and four arms and an accompanying heavenly prophesy foretelling that he would lose his additional arms & eyes when placed on the lap of his future slayer. His parents invited all kings of the world to Chedi and placed the child on their laps, but nothing happened. Finally, Shishupala’s cousins, Krishna and his brother Balarama came to visit. Shishupala’s extra arms and eyes fell off as soon as he was placed on Krishna’s lap. Realizing that her son would be killed by his own cousin brother, the terrified mother secured a boon from Krishna that he would pardon a 100 offences of Shishupala even when he deserved to be killed. Shishupala’s parents, in an attempt to provide him security, then placed him under the care of Krishna’s sworn enemy, the powerful Jarasandha. As he grew up Shishupala found a way to commit a 100 offences, the last one being at Yudhistra’s Rajasuya yagna and finally Krishna killed him.

All very well! But, was constructive feedback ever given to Shishupala?

On the one hand he had his well-wishers – his parents, his mentor Jarasandha and his close friend, Rukmi, the brother of Rukmini who hated Krishna and on the other end of the spectrum were his perceived enemies – Krishna and Balarama. His parents tried to protect him by pushing him into the arms of a person with his own personal agenda against Krishna and who naturally groomed him with similar views. His friends kept telling him that he was on the right track whenever he committed an offense in the eyes of Krishna. And Krishna too, just let him off after each offence, without taking the effort to make Shishupala understand what was wrong and what he could have done better. This was very much contrary to the amount of time and effort he had invested in Arjuna in the great war to shape his thought process. So, appears like a combination of lop-sided feedback – all positive from friends and all negative from adversaries contributed to Shishupala’s death.
This is very much the corporate scenario today. Well-meaning feedback mechanisms have been instituted by organizations to help employees improve their performance and eventually contribute to the organization’s holistic growth. But, it often translates into a forum skewed by bias extremities leading to either flowery comments or petty personal attacks and eventually provides little opportunity for growth and education in their roles as against the original objective of the whole process. Hence, it’s very important that feedback needs to be constructive and corrective rather than simply positive or negative. Every person in the system has a responsibility towards the other in ensuring that he has a clear picture of his performance from the inside out, to help create a culture of positive reinforcement. Finally, it’s essential that that this process should be consistent, continuous and actionable.

So, probably Shishupala would have lived longer and been an effective king, had he received timely Constructive Feedback.