Monday, May 16, 2011

Conscience-our compass for ethical journey

When I was a young I happened to travel in local bus with a neighbor and her son of seven years. The conductor asked her the boy’s age and she said five to avoid buying the ticket. The boy blurted out and said ‘Mummy, I am seven”. She pressed hard the boy’s shoulders down and said to conductor that he was only five. The boy kept quiet but learnt that it is alright to lie sometimes to save some money. The seeds of dishonesty were planted in the young mind unwittingly by his mom. Thereafter I am sure he would have replied with a hurry to the conductor that he was five. All of us have a conscience which is influenced from what we learn from our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, elders in the family and society at large. It is from these interactions that we learn to build our values of what is right and what is not.

When I was 10 or 11, I went with my friend to a small library situated near my house. It was built on donation of old books. It was open in the evenings for a few hours. Someone on honorary capacity came to open the library and then attend to his personal work if any in the bazaar where it was situated. There will not be many members as the stock was not replenished except for a few dailies and magazines. When my friend took me there were none in the library. The racks were all stacked with old books that were donated. My friend asked me to take any book that I wanted. I was attracted to a thick brown book with golden letters of Walter Scott’s poems. I took it. He said that we need not make any entry as we were not members and can return the book anytime if we wished to. The book was so old that pages crumbled if folded. When my dad saw that evening the book on my table, he was initially surprised at my choice and asked me who gave the book. When I told him it was from the nearby library, whose existence he was not aware of, he asked me whether I was a member and who issued the book. Under persistent questioning, I told him what had happened. He said I was a plain thief and that I should go and return the book the first thing next day and seek forgiveness from the librarian. He skipped his dinner that evening giving some excuse but I knew inwardly that it was a punishment he inflicted on himself for my wrong act. I returned the book at the library and it so happened that librarian was not present. But it was one hard lesson that I learnt that evening and the distress in my dad’s face is still fresh before me even after several decades. He didn’t speak to me for two days but relented only after much promises of proper behavior.

If the family or the society tolerates aberrations from ethical behavior, people tend to condone them or take a lighter view of the deviations. Manipulative accounting to save taxes both at individual and corporate levels is practiced without remorse though some of which is legal but unethical. I have heard from HR persons that most of the resumes are exaggerated documents on candidates’ skills or achievements bearing slender resemblance to reality Even in sports players take advantage of wrong rulings given by umpires though they knew they were at fault. Hardly a few cricketers choose to walk out without waiting for the umpires signal. The cloak of legality shrouds the unethical actions of the rulers in many of their transactions. We rationalize that what is legal is permissible though it is unethical. But inside everyman’s conscience, there is a compass showing what is right and what is not. The antenna inside our heart always warns us of the impropriety of our talk or actions but we choose to ignore for expedient reasons. It is here the underpinnings of family values that guide the children to be away from the wrong path. Conscience is man’s compass showing him the correct way and it is built at the homes in young ages

“Conscience is what hurts when everything else feels so good” It is a small voice that is too loud for our comfort and yet people choose to ignore it. That everybody does so is a lame excuse and never acceptable. Bending the rules or short circuiting procedures however tempting to achieve results cannot be condoned if they do not pass the ethical litmus test. History is replete with instances where wrong doers finally suffered ignominy and shame.


  1. We are all aware of ethical behavior, but sometimes we do let go without giving it much thought. I still know many uncles and aunts whose parents have changed the date and year of their birth for some legitimate reasons, which seems to be rather silly when we look at it now.
    However what has been done has been done, they feel now to change would cause more problems and just let bygones be bygones, and move on with their life.
    It is not necessary that such behaviour in their early life would tend to influence them forever. People change, learn from their silly mistakes and become good individuals.
    Parents too have behaved in such a manner because at that time it felt alright for them, so I don't think we should grudge them, for many things were followed by what was prevalent in that particular time.

    In your case your father did not like what you did and that was really commendable, he corrected you before it could become a habit for you. You were lucky to have such a good father, but many people would have understood by themselves that it was not right.

    So my point is that parents are not necessarily the culprit in how their children grow up to be.

  2. Excellent write up again from you! I keep looking for your posts. Blessed with two little children whom i want to be ethically and morally good, i spend quite some time in explaining things. What your Dad did ( Skip meal) was a simple punishment that would have hurt you the most at that moment. But it would have also taught you the valuable lesson of not coveting others' things. It is our duty to teach our young ones and preach what we teach them:)

  3. Well said KP! Appreciate sharing about your Dad and lessons learnt.

    ~ NRIGirl

  4. When one is taught ethics from the childhood, like your father did, they are so seeped in our mind that we make a strong character.
    But then some people learn from the experiences and become a good human being later on.

    As a parent i also wanted my children to be ethical from the childhood,

  5. This sums it up pretty well ...... “Conscience is what hurts when everything else feels so good”

  6. Kp this is the first time I am on this blog of yours. Your observations are very valid. Children learn from us. If we are rude to our elders in front of them they in turn will be rude to us because this is behaviour that they learn from us. My daughter and myself have had lot of discussions on God and finally we came to the conclusion that God is within us and it is that voice that makes us uncomfortable when we have done something wrong.