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Communication Ethics : Part II

A peek into Sulabhâ and Janaka Samvada to understand communication ethics.

In Part I of “Dysfunctional Meetings” we saw the examples of communication gone astray, using the examples from ancient Sanskrit literature. This essay also uses ancient Sanskrit literature as a prescription to prevent bad communication.

Abstract

Whether at home or outside, in any sphere of work, communication management plays an important part in life. From the time a mother starts teaching a toddler how to speak, communication becomes an integral part of human beings. Like anything in nature, communication management has both good and bad components. This is where a look into the Mahabharata’s Šantiparva is warranted, where there is a dialogue between a ṛshika Sulabhā and the King Janaka of Mithila talking about what constitutes good and bad communication. This discourse can become a cheat sheet for communication ethics. In this article, we organize these dialogues under a few headings to give an overall picture of communication ethics that is relevant even today.

Sulabhà and Janaka Samvàda on Communication Ethics

In communication, there is a speaker (vaktā), listener(s) (śrotā) and sentences (vākyaṃ). Sulabhâ establishes relationships with these three components in the following four verses.

वक्ताश्रोताचवाक्यंचयदात्वविकलंनृप।
सममेतिविवक्षायांतदासोर्थःप्रकाशते।।१२-३२५-९१
vaktā śrotā ca vākyaṃ ca yadā tvavikalaṃ nṛpa।
sa mameti vivakṣāyāṃ tadā sorthaḥ prakāśate।। 12-325-91

(“Hey king, when the speaker, the listener, and the words are all aligned, it will resonate with the meaning that the speaker wants to convey.”)

[The speakers have to be convinced with themselves before they convey their thoughts to others in the form of words.]

वक्तव्येतुयदावक्ताश्रोतारमवमन्यते।
स्वार्थमाहपरार्थंतत्तदावाक्यंनरोहति।।१२-३२५-९२

vaktavye tu yadā vaktā śrotāramavamanyate।
svārthamāha parārthaṃ tattadā vākyaṃ na rohati।। 12-325-92
(“A sentence will not mean anything if it is solely driven by the speaker’s self-interests and ignores the interests of the listeners.”)

[Listeners need to be respected for the communication to be effective.]

अथयःस्वार्थमुत्सृज्यपरार्थंप्राहमानवः।
विशङ्काजायतेतस्मिन्वाक्यंतदपिदोषवत्।।१२-३२५-९३
atha yaḥ svārthamutsṛjya parārthaṃ prāha mānavaḥ।
viśaṅkā jāyate tasminvākyaṃ tadapi doṣavat।। 12-325-93

(“However, if the sentences convey only what the listeners want to hear, the sentences won’t be trusted either. “)

यस्तुवक्ताद्वयोरर्थमविरुद्धंप्रभाषते।
श्रोतुश्चैवात्मनश्चैवसवक्तानेतरोनृप।।१२-३२५-९४

yastu vaktā dvayorarthamaviruddhaṃ prabhāṣate।
śrotuścaivātmanaścaiva sa vaktā netaro nṛpa

(“Hence, the narrator is a true speaker (vaktā), if the sentences align with the interests of both the speaker and the listeners.”)

[The balance between self-interest and the interests of the listeners has to be achieved for proper communication.]

The features of sentences

Sentences being the foundation of communication, their features need to be understood for proper communication management. Sulabhà lists out a set of features of a sentence in the following verses.

सौक्ष्म्यंसाङ्ख्यक्रमौचोभौनिर्णयःसप्रयोजनः।
पञ्चैतान्यर्थजातानिवाक्यमित्युच्यतेनृप॥१२-३२५-७९

saukṣmyaṃ sāṅkhyakramau cobhau nirṇayaḥ saprayojanaḥ.
pañcaitānyarthajātāni vākyamityucyate nṛpa (12-325-79)

A sentence is made from five features: “saukṣmyaṃ” (subtlety), “sâṅkhyam” (enumeration), “krama” (order), “nirṇayaḥ” (conclusion), and “prayojana” (utility).

The following verses explain each of these features in detail.

1. Subtlety: saukṣmyaṃ

ज्ञानंज्ञेयेषुभिन्नेषुयदाभेदेनवर्तते।
तत्रातिशयिनीबुद्धिस्तत्सौक्ष्म्यमितिवर्तते।।१२-३२५-८१

jñānaṃ jñeyeṣu bhinneṣu yadā bhedena vartate।
tatrātiśayinī buddhistatsaukṣmyamiti vartate।। 12-325-81

(“Subtlety is the ability to discern between distinct objects of knowledge by understanding the underlying differentiator minutely.”)

As they say, a genius is defined as someone who can find similarity between totally dissimilar objects and dissimilarity between identical objects.

2. Counting: saṅkhyâ

दोषाणांचगुणानांचप्रमाणंप्रविभागतः।
कंचिदर्थमभिप्रेत्यसासङ्ख्येत्युपधार्यताम्।।१२-३२५-८२

doṣāṇāṃ ca guṇānāṃ ca pramāṇaṃ pravibhāgataḥ।
kaṃcidarthamabhipretya sā saṅkhyetyupadhāryatām।। 12-325-82

(“Enumerating its pros and cons in relation to a specific subject is called sāṅkhya, or a count.”)

[By listing the merits and demerits, the subject becomes clearer.]

3. Sequence/Order: karma

इदंपूर्वमिदंपश्चाद्वक्तव्यंयद्विवक्षितम्।
क्रमयोगंतमप्याहुर्वाक्यंवाक्यविदोजनाः।।१२-३२५-८३

idaṃ pūrvamidaṃ paścādvaktavyaṃ yadvivakṣitam।
kramayogaṃ tamapyāhurvākyaṃ vākyavido janāḥ।। 12-325-83

(What intended feature must be said earlier and which one later is called “krama,” or a sequence or order. The wise call such a disciplined sentence “kramayukta.”)

[While explaining one’s point, it is important to prioritize the order in which one picks up a subject.]

4. Conclusion: nirṇayaḥ

धर्मकामार्थमोक्षेषुप्रतिज्ञायविशेषतः।
इदंतदितिवाक्यान्तेप्रोच्यतेसविनिर्णयः।।१२-३२५-८४

dharmakāmārthamokṣeṣu pratijñāya viśeṣataḥ।
idaṃ taditi vākyānte procyate sa vinirṇayaḥ।। 12-325-84

(Declaring “this is this/this is that” with respect to Dharma (duty/righteousness), Kāma (desire), Artha (wealth), and Moks̱a (liberation) after making a hypothesis (pratijñāya) is called Nirnaya or a conclusion.)

For any discussion, one makes a hypothesis initially and declares that such and such is so and so, with respect to Dharma, Artha, Kāma, or Moks̱a. This leads to a conclusion.

[Here, the underlying meaning is that one must be clear about which aspect related to these four paths of our conduct the subject should support.]

5. Utility: Prayojana:

इच्छाद्वेषभवैर्दुःखैःप्रकर्षोयत्रजायते।
तत्रयानृपतेवृत्तिस्तत्प्रयोजनमिष्यते।।१२-३२५-८५

icchādveṣabhavairduḥkhaiḥ prakarṣo yatra jāyate।
tatra yā nṛpate vṛttistatprayojanamiṣyate।। 12-325-85

(Due to desires and jealousy, suffering arises. The intent to mitigate these sufferings is called “prayojana,” or utility.) 

Remember, even in project management, one has to be clear on the ROI (return on investment). [The prayojana explains what is the ROI in a way.]

Only fixing the technicalities of sentences won’t build a good communication principle. There are other pitfalls in communication that Sulabhà lists as eighteen possible falacies.

The pitfalls in communication

The pitfalls in communication could be due to structural flaws or flaws arising out of one’s intent. There are nine possible structural flaws, nine of which are attributed to intent.

नवभिर्नवभिश्चैवदोषैर्वाग्बुद्धिदूषणैः।
अपेतमुपपन्नार्थमष्टादशगुणान्वितम्१२-३२५-७८॥

navabhirnavabhiścaiva doṣairvāgbuddhidūṣaṇaiḥ।
apetamupapannārthamaṣṭādaśaguṇānvitam॥ (12-325-78 )

(“There are nine plus nine defects arising out of the structure of the sentence and the intent of the speaker, respectively. Removing these flaws will result in eighteen merits.”)

The structural flaws

उपेतार्थमभिन्नार्थंन्यायवृत्तंनचाधिकम्।
नाश्लक्ष्णंनचसंदिग्धंवक्ष्यामिपरमंततः।।१२-३२५-८७
upetārthamabhinnārthaṃ nyāyavṛttaṃ na cādhikam।
nāślakṣṇaṃ na ca saṃdigdhaṃ vakṣyāmi paramaṃ tataḥ (12-325-87 )

(“A sentence shall have a clear meaning without any ambiguity (abhinnārthaṃ) and shall be logical (nyāyavṛttaṃ). A sentence should neither be confusing (na saṃdigdhaṃ), nor verbose (nādhikam) nor laconic (aślakṣṇaṃ).”)

नगुर्वक्षरसंयुक्तंपराङ्मुखसुखंनच।
नानृतंनत्रिवर्गेणविरुद्धंनाप्यसंस्कृतम्।।१२-३२५-८८
na gurvakṣarasaṃyuktaṃ parāṅmukhasukhaṃ na ca।
nānṛtaṃ na trivargeṇa viruddhaṃ nāpyasaṃskṛtam।।।। 12-325-88

(“A sentence shall not be harsh, and it shall also not be easily dismissed by the opponents. It will not be false or opposed to the basic values of human beings – dharma, artha and kåma.”)

नन्यूनंनष्टशब्दंवाव्युत्क्रमाभिहितंनच।
सदोषमभिकल्पेननिष्कारणमहेतुकम्।।१२-३२५-८९
na nyūnaṃ naṣṭaśabdaṃ vā vyutkramābhihitaṃ na ca।
sadoṣamabhikalpena niṣkāraṇamahetukam।। 12-325-89

(“A sentence should be complete, and it should not lack words or be disorderly or have faulty words. A sentence should not be a conglomeration of meaningless words lacking in purpose.”)

Flaws due to the attitude of the speaker

After covering the structural flaws, Sulabhà lists out flaws arising out of intent.

कामात्क्रोधाद्भयाल्लोभाद्दैन्याच्चानार्थकात्तथा।
ह्रीतोऽनुक्रोशतोमानान्नवक्ष्यामिकथंचन।।१२-३२५-९०
kāmātkrodhādbhayāllobhāddainyāccānārthakāttathā।
hrīto’nukrośato mānānna vakṣyāmi kathaṃcana।। 12-325-90

(“I will not speak with emotions such as desire (kāma), anger (krodha), fear (bhaya), greed (lobha), self-pity (dainya), hopelessness (ānārthakā), shame (hrīta), pity (anukrośata), or pride (māna).”)

Conclusion

Ancient Sanskrit literature, such as Mahabharatam, is a trove of treasures of wisdom. Apart from the core subject the texts have, there are hidden wisdoms that are relevant even today. In this article, we examined one such instance from Mahabharatam, where the discourses between a king (Janaka) and r̥shika (Sulabhâ) throw light at communication principles. The dialogues between these two, in one of the stories shows us how by focusing on building proper sentences, to understand possible flaws in them and correct them accordingly and by following the path of dharma in communication as well, one can get ethical communication management system.

References

Mahabharatam, Śānti Parva, Vyāsa Muni, Gitāpress

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Indic Today is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.

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