“The Corrupt Mind”
Ruchi a teenager aged thirteen does not winch when she tells a blatant lie to her mother. She has become a habitual liar at a tender age and that is likely to stay with her forever unless corrected strictly and sternly over a long period of time. The father is an irresponsible alcoholic who does not earn and only whines. Not surprisingly, as in such cases, Ruchi feels no emotion of ‘guilt’ while she lies her way through on a daily basis. When caught she feels no ‘shame’ too at all! She ignores the fact of being caught and looks askance. This is a corruption of the mind at a young age.
Madhu, my childhood friend always talked of the ways of how some traders habitually and necessarily adulterated the supplies and mixed similar looking stuff with the original to inflate the weight and earn many more extra bucks. She talked of how it was part of the family training to the children who would take over the family business and continue the tradition. Of course they felt no emotions of ‘sympathy’ or ‘empathy’ for the consumers who trusted them but would not be getting pure food items. Let us not mention the emotions of guilt and shame which they did not feel at all. They were trained into corruption as a practice to be followed regularly.
Mr. X was cheating on his wife and being an infidel for almost a year. He suffered no guilt committing the act for it happily continued surreptitiously and would have gone on longer if he was not caught. He however experienced enough shame when confronted by the family initially and did not last long. The emotion of shame made him angry and not apologetic as he went on the offensive with his wife and children and cut off their freebies in retaliation! Of course he promised not to indulge in the ‘shameful’ act, but did not keep his word.
A bunch of colleagues siphoned off huge amounts of public money from a charitable institution and managed to get away with it. The deed was done and sealed- a few persons raised the issue and asked questions but no answers were given, the coterie was not hauled up but supported by the ruling ‘syndicate’. There was no obvious emotion of ‘guilt or shame’ that was expressed –in fact what was perceived was blatant arrogance and self aggrandizement as if they felt more powerful for getting away with a criminal act with aplomb.
The four emotions of ‘guilt, shame, sympathy and empathy’ are known as the bunch of ‘moral emotions’. These emotions either precede an act which entail a moral dilemma and are called ‘anticipatory emotions’ or follow after an immoral act has been committed and are hence called ‘consequential emotions’. These emotions reflect your moral values which have been internalised during the growth and development of the individual mainly during childhood /formative years.
Guilt and shame are self-oriented emotions and can act as great checks against wrong doing. The guilt-pangs of an immoral act if experienced can paralyse any individual and make him mentally sick. A man in his late thirties, who had once abused a girl child in school when he was teenager, fell sick with chronic guilt which he experienced at all times. He wanted to atone for his sin in some way and finalised on donating scholarship to five girl children for education. Similarly a lady fasted periodically for a full year with many self imposed rituals to atone for her sins committed against her husband. We are familiar with the sickness that Lady Macbeth suffered after committing the murder of King Duncan in the Shakespearean tragedy. Her guilt got the better of her after the act of sin as she never forgave herself. The experiencing of a moral emotion and acting on it to atone for it is a self reformatory mechanism. The great Indian sage Valmiki who penned the epic ‘Ramayana’, was a thug and a highway robber and lived off the loot from passengers, before he reformed himself and became a saint. Many prisoners from Tihar Jail reformed themselves when Kiran Bedi set in prison reforms.
Sympathy and empathy are other-oriented emotions in contrast to the above two. It is caused by the apprehension and comprehension of another’s emotional state with which you can either show concern or actually feel the state of others as a reflection within yourself. Much research has been done on the connection between moral emotions and moral behaviour. Eisenberg and associates have claimed that ‘very young children have been found to express feelings of care and empathy towards others, showing concern for others well-being. They say that ‘when empathy is induced in an individual he or she is more likely to engage in subsequent pro-social behaviour’. The ‘Seva kitchens’ set up by altruists are a good example of pro-social behaviour, emphasising empathy and sympathy for the underprivileged.
The social domain theories focus on interpersonal, inter-group and cultural influences that an individual undergoes. Parents and other significant adults pass down rules of conduct and standards of behaviour and the child may or may not internalise/imbibe the good values taught. This depends upon the child’s attributes and temperament and its own emotional-cognitive understanding of life. Hence the onus of moral behaviour is both on the family and parents that impart adequate training of values and standards of behaviour as well as on the individual that makes independent ‘choices’ when faced with moral dilemmas in life and decides to choose either the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’.
I once had a brush with a law-breaking goon who said with vanity, ‘I am used to the police lock-up and have been there umpteen times’! No moral emotions on display at all. We are not talking here of such pathological states of mind that are beyond redemption- for they think nothing, feel nothing and think nothing of others and believe that they have not sinned ‘until they are caught’ and even if they are caught they will be released again for yet another circle of sins and crimes!