Sometimes people fear, “If I become detached, I will become hardhearted.”
However, what makes us hardhearted is not detachment, but its opposite: attachment. When we become attached to something, we experience intense emotions in relation with that object. But those very emotions can impel us towards unbecoming, immoral and hurtful actions, especially towards those whom we see as threats to our attachment.
At the Bhagavad-gita’s start (01.01), Dhritarashtra enquires: On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, what did my people and the Pandavas do? The question reveals his bias – the Pandavas too were his people, being his nephews. Moreover, he was meant to care for them as a surrogate father after the untimely demise of their own father Pandu. The Pandavas, on their part, had consistently respected him as if he was their father. But Dhritarashtra was irrationally attached to his oldest son Duryodhana. Being morally deadened by that attachment, he had repeatedly consented to Duryodhana’s nefarious schemes for eliminating the Pandavas whom that envious prince resented as rivals.
Dhritarashtra’s attachment made him so hard-hearted that he cheered when during a rigged gambling match Duryodhana stripped the Pandavas of all their wealth, and abused them and even their honorable wife Draupadi. And now he had stooped to the level of seeing the Pandavas as the other whose destruction he hoped for. What can be more hardhearted than wanting the death of those whom one is meant to protect? If only Dhritarashtra had some detachment from Duryodhana, his heart would have softened towards the Pandavas. And those emotions would have inspired him to act virtuously instead of viciously.
Thus, if we fear becoming hardhearted, we should be worried about being attached, not detached. Attachment can make us shockingly hardhearted, whereas detachment can make us emotionally intelligent, capable of eschewing degrading emotions and embracing elevating emotions.