Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Moral Compass

Part One - OUT THERE

News of the World (NOW) has become the hacker engaging Newspaper (THEN). Ok, I stretched the acronyms a bit. But the following scorecard emerged on the Good guys, Bad guys tally:

Good Guys
Bad Guys

Other papers have been doing it too
Private Eye

Benefit of doubt. Their work is on the edge of the law

Ok, so not all. But plenty

Not all
 Bad Guys win 5-0.

Meanwhile, in South Korea and Turkey, the soccer leagues have been match-fixing, bribe ridden. Closer home we have politicians in jail (no one’s surprised),  corporate honchos in jail (greedy money makers),  athletes caught doping (yet again),  etc. CWG, 3G, fodder etc etc. In the US, major banks and financial institutions under investigations for shady dealings and practices leading up to The Big Bang in 2008 to the global economy.

So  corruption, breaking the law, cheating and everything accompanying such activities is a truly global religion with equitable following across race, nation, economic status, gender, profession      etc. Miraculously through all this the public are perceived to be honest.

The counter-argument against the above view : not all people are corrupt, just a few bad apples. Replace “people” with any other human classification and it turns out basically everyone’s okay.

How come that all of us okay people conspire to bring misery in varying scales to self, family, community, profession, nation and planet with such regularity?  Is there something wrong IN HERE?

Part Two - IN HERE

There used to a subject called “Moral Science” that was taught in my school upto Class X.  There were even exams. In junior classes for the 10 and under, the issues posed included “Ram was from a poor family. He didn’t have enough to eat for two days. He stole his friend’s lunch in school and ate. Was Ram right? Why do you think so?”. An expanded version of “No. It wasn’t his lunch.” Assured excellent marks, other answers weren’t really entertained though everyone passed (this part I know). This was through schools in Mumbai.  In Delhi, the Moral Science class was a free period, de facto. The teachers did their other work, students did homework in class to expand play time or just chatted.  The exam had students regularly scoring 90% plus while regularly copying in other exams and frequently beating up other kids outside class.

College didn’t have moral science classes.  However, real life issues were discussed threadbare by very enlightened faculty when making any decisions – including gems like “why should the student caught doping not be suspended from college?”.  Post-grad entailed about one course that was about the social environment and one session in another course on “business ethics”.

So about 5 years out of about 20 years in the education system actually paid some attention to contemplating life and one’s role in it, society etc and that too because of an enlightened management and faculty that did this off-line, the system didn’t require anything at all.

To succeed, you must get good grades. Everything else is touchy-feely dreamy stuff captured quite beautifully in a character called “Masterji” who graces Bollywood cinema. He’s the bloke who gets knocked off in reel two while trying to convince a knife-wielding villain (who’s just raped and killed) about the virtues of community participation, gender sensitivity and the nation’s potential to become “swarg”. Of course, his kid (Vijay/Rahul/Sonny) and the revenge comprise the rest of the film and the part we all want to see. There may even be an item number for the guys.

All of us have grown  up through a system that evaluates us periodically and, as a system, disdains introspection about self, society, humanity etc (will it earn you earn money, stupid boy – translate to your own language, and you’ve heard it many times).

At some point, we become GROWN UPs and in some capacity or the other, significant players in shaping the rules.  Is it very surprising – what happens OUT THERE?  


But don’t we all really develop moral values and ethics at home through parents and family? I mean, what can the school do if your dad and mom are crooks; they can’t change it.

The school values good academic results. Home values good academic results. Outcome – kids generally end up trying their best to obtain good academic results.  What’s happening OUT THERE (school) and IN HERE (home) reinforce the same values (Academic results) to a young mind. Like it or not, you grow up convinced that this matters.

When you pay attention enough to something, it reaches a point where you don’t really have to pay attention anymore…not so much. Its just second nature after that. Its this quality that earns you the title of  B.E/B.A and later in life “expert”.  If you don’t have to pay attention and you don’t, then a mix of a plenty of things emerge……just like garbage. Its all jake (thank Raymond Chandler for my using this term, he's dead so a prayer will have to do) as long as it doesn’t interfere with priority.

"But man, why give a damn? I mean...I'm going for the yoga and meditation classes and Saturday afternoon is "The Road to Happiness" session by  U. R. Special, spiritual guru. And i'm paying for it, so its not a joke. I am paying attention!"

“WHO? ME????! NO, NEVER!”

Moral Science is similar. Reinforcement at both ends burrows a though deep at a formative stage in life till it becomes a part of you. More importantly, OUT THERE becomes a valuable counterpoint to whatever happens IN HERE, and the contradictions actually help the development of a capacity to reason. As  people IN HERE we will never take the “dreamy” stuff head on, as we all like to believe we are a closet Gandhiji or Mother Theresa. I haven’t heard too many people acknowledge that they have their dark side and may have reinforced unethical behavior.

And the “bits” of wisdom of the IT world holds true -  In-Out-Garbage (use combo to suit philosophy, no seasoning required).  

So much for now. There’s a cop approaching the car looking like he’s gonna be on my case for using the cell phone while driving. I dictated these thoughts on the phone recorder. Need to pull a 100 bucks from my wallet to square this up, he won’t believe that I’m not on a phone call. (okay, so I made this last bit up….but you know, it could have been true.).

PS: This isn't intended to be the self-actualization of the Gandhi in me. But just stuff to chew on, in between some laughs (i hope!). So send your hate mail to my address, they have unlimited storage.