In Stephen R Covey's now legendary book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he explains the six paradigms of human interactions - win/win, lose/lose, win/lose, win, lose/win, and win/win or no deal.
1. Win/win is the approach where both players seek mutual benefit. It's not your way or my way - it's a way that's better than both.
2. Lose/lose is the case of the dog in the manger. I get the raw end of the deal so I ensure that you don't get any better.
3. Win/lose is basically saying, "If I win, you lose." This typically applies to running races and competitions. There is one winner, the rest are losers.
4. Win (or "Think Win") is the approach where you just think about winning, not really bothered about the others. You are unaffected if they win or lose; you just want to win.
5. Lose/win is the mother's attitude of letting her kids win even though they aren't as good. It's an approach that says, "Ok, have it your way, I won't push my case - even though I may be right."
6. Win/win or no deal is a heightened case of win/win where you say "unless this benefits both of us, we're not going ahead with it." If we embark on something then it must be mutually nourishing.
We can find a parallel for this in the Mahabharata. In one of the early chapters of the Udyoga Parva (Book 5), Arjuna decides to visit Krishna in Dwarka to seek his help in the war. Duryodhana, who has spread out his spies everywhere, comes to know of this, and rushes to Dwarka, lest he miss out getting help from Krishna. It turns out that Duryodhana reaches first. When he arrives in the palace, he finds Krishna asleep and sits down on a fine seat at the head of the bed. Arjuna arrives in tow but stands at the foot of the bed with joint palms. When Krishna wakes up, he first sees Arjuna. Then he greets both of them and enquires of them about their journey. Then he asks them the purpose of their visit. Duryodhana says, "You should help me in the coming war. Both I and Arjuna are your friends. And today, I was the first to come. You, as a wise person, should take up my cause first." Krishna smiles and says, "I don't doubt that you came first, O king, but I saw Arjuna first. In any case, I will help you both. They say that the younger one should get the first choice, so let Arjuna choose first. I have an army of a hundred million soldiers known as the Narayanas and they are invincible in war. I will give them to one of you. I alone, having decided not to lift a weapon in this war, will go to the other. Arjuna, you choose first. Select one of these two."
Without a moment's hesitation, Arjuna picks Krishna. Duryodhana picks the army. Although Duryodhana would have liked both Krishna and his army on his side, he is nevertheless delighted at his good fortune and also at Arjuna's stupidity.
Then Duryodhana proceeds to meet Balarama and asks him to join the war. The great warrior replies, "Even in the past, for your sake, I contradicted Krishna and disagreed with his opinions. I spoke about the equality of our relationship with both the groups but Krishna never shared that view. I cannot separate myself from Krishna even for a moment. And since I cannot act against Krishna, I have decided not to fight this war - neither for your nor for the Pandavas. You should fight! And fight well, keeping in mind all the rules of war!"
After Duryodhana departed, Krishna asked Arjuna, "You knew that I will not fight this war, yet why did you choose me?"
Arjuna said, "I know that you can slay them all but so can I. But you are a great man and your renown comes with you. So I chose you. Please be my charioteer. This is what I wish."
Krishna replied with a smile, "It's nice that you compare yourself with me. I shall be your charioteer. Your wish will be fulfilled."
We see the contrasting approaches of Krishna and Balarama from this. Krishna has achieved a perfect win-win situation. He's happy that he has been able to help both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Although he clearly knows that Pandavas are the good guys and Kauravas are the bad guys, as a respected person and a relative to both groups, he offers help to both - he doesn't shirk away from his duties. Arjuna goes back with the feeling that he has got the best deal. Duryodhana goes back with the feeling that he has got the best deal. Everybody is happy.
On the other hand, Balarama opts for a no deal scenario. His emotional instability leads him to a point where he cannot take sides. He loves Krishna - his brother, his friend, his playmate, and his guide. He also loves Duryodhana who is his star pupil (though Bhima is also his student in the art of fighting with the mace, he loves Duryodhana more). When he comes to know that Krishna has been picked by Arjuna, he realises that he cannot fight the Pandavas. And he cannot fight the Kauravas. Instead, he goes off on a pilgrimage when the war takes place.
Often we are forced to take a call out of compulsion or other emotional bindings. But if we can say that either the activity shall add value to everyone or else we shall not take it up at all, then our decisions will lead to greater good.
(In preparing this article, I have drawn heavily from my discussions with K Srinivas.)
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. London: Pocket Books, 1999. pp. 206-16.
Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa. Volume 5: Udyoga Parva. Calcutta: Bharata Press, 1883-1896. pp. 9-10.