Akbar had the navratnas in his darbar. The best of them was Birbal. Not because of the wisdom (both direct and implied) that exists in those stories, but because of the wonderful relationship that the protagonists had. All relationships can learn from this beautiful example of a perfect relationship that existed between a master and a subordinate. Let us delve deeper.
Would Akbar be as great if he did not throw impossible challenges at Birbal?
Or did not allow Birbal to express himself freely and fully?
Or acknowledge his mistakes when Birbal showed him the mirror?
Would Birbal be as great if he did not have Akbar as his benefactor and tough taskmaster?
Not many people in power can “reflect” on the reflection that they see especially if (a) they don’t like what they see and (b) the mirror is held by someone who is below them in the power equation. Very few subordinates will have the courage to (a) say that the emperor is naked and (b) hold the mirror that confirms to the emperor that he is naked. Throwing away the mirror that highlights the “uncomfortable truth” and joining the other subordinates in throwing lavish praises on the naked emperors fabulous garments is a much easier option indeed, that’s why a vast majority will take that route.
Emperors need to embrace and nurture those (you would be lucky to find a few of them, by the way) who have the courage to act and say what needs to be said. Subordinates need to know that there always exists a line that can/should not be crossed and the best way to guide an open and intelligent mind is a gentle nudge and not a strong push and “I told you so” attitude. It’s difficult – like all other meaningful things that are worth striving for.
So what is your favourite Akbar Birbal story? Here is mine.
To all the Akbars and Birbals reading this – may you have more wisdom and power. We play many roles every day – we are the Akbars of some relationships, Birbals of some others and the darbaris of a few. If we stay true to our roles the relationships will be fuller and more meaningful. And while it may be very difficult to do it all the time, it will be worthwhile to attempt to do it most of the time.