A matter of ethics – 21 Sep 2010

A well known senior surgeon whom I happened to meet on Mahalaxmi Puja,just a few days ago, happened to recall an archaic memory when she was ten years old! She wanted a paper pin for her school work and naturally walked up to her doctor father’s work table at his hospital. Perhaps they lived in the same building but I did not ask that. Just as she had opened his table drawer and picked up the desired pin her father walked in from behind and stopped her. He softly instructed her to drop the pin back in the box. ‘This belongs to the hospital my child’ he said, ‘I will get you another one for your school work from the market’. That was a very important lesson for me stated the senior surgeon with a shine in her eyes and an obvious pride in her tone. I was enchanted with the ancient memory and the story which set the ethical standards for the little girl for her life!

Ethical behaviour is not just a personal and private thing but relates to work life as well. It pertains to all spheres of life. It is part of the foundation of your personality and is deeply ingrained from childhood. What is proper and accepted behaviour is taught by parents and guardians from the beginning. Some people may demarcate between the personal and business life and separate it by compartmentalising it. That’s a split of the personality where you have created an ability to carry with you two or three sets of norms of behaviour. One set of behaviour for each necessary adult function such as personal, professional and social! One of the causes of stress is this ‘split’ and the lack of integration of the personality. There are psychological fall-outs of this ‘split’ in personality.

Another leading surgeon in his speech claimed that in spite of his hectic schedules and his stresses, he sleeps well because he pays all his taxes and has no black money to worry about. How true! A capable professional can earn enough according to his talent to feed himself and his family. Mahatma Gandhi’s adage is true that ‘there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed! The desire to amass huge wealth by compromising values and unethical  behaviour erodes not only the organisation, the economic system but also the human individual and the culture.

My father’s principles were always clear and stated very simply for us to understand. ‘This belongs to you and this does not belong to you’ was applied to everything that could cause confusion. This simple principle was applied even to his own siblings and to us three at home. Whosoever has worked hard to earn the money is the owner and he has a right to do what he likes with it. People who have been brought up with clear principles will generally adhere to them in natural way. They do not have their eyes on others people’s pockets. They are aware of themselves and their limitations. But not all are brought up with clear principles unfortunately. Many are trained by parents, consciously or otherwise, into unethical behaviour. The argument is that you need to survive to do it. It is extended to say that a little bit of compromised behaviour will do no harm to anyone. The ‘chalta hai’ approach to life has developed from these compromises and has become almost a philosophy for some/many!

In an age of ethical crisis with a vitiated atmosphere almost everywhere it could be argued that it is not easy for people not to be corrupt. It is easy to fall to temptation and begin to compromise with your values. The environment encourages unethical behaviour. Wherever there are opportunities for corruption one should make hay. They may argue that the individual is not corrupt the environment is. But this is a one sided reality. The onus lies on the individual  to change and correct his actions. The onus does not lie with the ‘environment’. After all only individuals will have to clean the environment.

Published in The Hitavada Future – 21 Sep 2010

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