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.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Empty vessels make much noise

I have always found during my official career that persons who speak softly commanded greater respect than the loud ones. Perhaps the soft manner gives an impression of wisdom, conviction and seriousness unless proved contrary by the words spoken. Even in discussions during meetings, people who normally speak softly raise their voices when an opposite view point is expressed as if loudness of tone would impart greater validity or strength to their views. This in turn is met with louder outbursts reducing the meeting often to Babel of voices. We are witness almost daily to such undesirable trait in the several panel discussions or debates taking place in TV. On the other hand if the voice is kept low and not loud, it will generally create a soothing and conducive climate with others also following suit. The discussions would then be meaningful and participative and everyone would turn to be attentive. If you watch TV carefully you will see really successful and great people speak slowly and softly carrying their points across effectively while loud people who rush their words exhibit lack of confidence.

Although one’s voice is determined at the time of birth, I think a soft voice can be developed with some effort and practice. A loud voice sticks out like a sore thumb in a crowd. Generally a loud voice is associated with boorish nature, anger, dissatisfaction or being upset or agitated. A loud man is some what akin to a bull in china shop. A streak of aggressive behavior, impatience or dominating nature is associated with such persons unless accompanied by a big twinkle in the eyes. This large smile does not come by easily to all. As a result their listeners tend to become wary or equally agitated and invariably defensive. They will not open up resulting in many contracts for selling or buying falling through not because the offers were unattractive but because the mode of speaking put off the parties.

When you overreact to a given situation, become emotional and tend to increase the volume of your speech unconsciously, it is better to imagine a person whom you hold in high esteem and whom you wish to impress is watching the proceedings. Just imagine your mentor is by your side or you are in a place where soft music is played or in a restaurant with candle lights. This will immediately tame your voice and change your perception of the matter being discussed. We have a desire to be seen as reasonable, fair and considerate. This exercise of imagining, someone whom we venerate is present in the place or being in a place like hospital or library where silence is desirable, would have a calming and restraining influence. This is akin to two young siblings always quarreling behaving well at the dining table in the presence of dad. Gradually speaking softly would become a second nature.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Count the blessings

When my friend told me that his doctor had proscribed salt and sugar for him due to his medical condition and that he was compelled to eat bland and tasteless food day in and day out, I felt inwardly grateful that I could have my food tastily with no such restrictions. When a close relative of mine is afflicted with Alzheimer and I found she can hardly converse meaningfully, I felt blessed that I can remember events and people. When I saw my neighbor walking with a walker even within the house, I thanked the Lord for the long walks that I have daily in the park watching the bright coloured flowers and happy children playing around. But I am grateful to Him only when I see such people struggling in their lives and that too for a while only. Otherwise I relapse into my habit of taking for granted the various small blessings without a thought they make much difference to the quality of my life.
It is a common failing in many of us that only when we hear bad news or see the sufferings that others undergo like the ones I detailed above that we realize that we took many things for granted. We do not give a second thought about the salt, sugar or water intake and assume they are insignificant till they become very important and hard to give up. Why not appreciate the many small things that we enjoy and be thankful to God even before we hear such bad news or ourselves compelled to forego when we fall sick. The ability to laugh, the beauty given to us, the wonderful family that we are born into, the good friends that we have got, the good health that we have and the nice job we have are all blessings that we should be constantly aware of, nurture them as gifts of God and be eternally grateful to Him in our prayers. We should learn to enjoy them even in their abundance till they are taken away if at all. Life is short with many surprises and imponderables. What is given today may not be there the next day. The awareness of impermanence of everything would bestow the right attitude to be thankful even for small things and appreciate them in full measure. Such an attitude if ingrained in us would make us live our lives humbly but with great joy in whatever position we are placed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

We set the example to children

We are constantly watched by our children overtly or covertly. They learn from their experiences, the conversations with us and in the house with others and our own reactions to different situations. Parents are the cynosures of their eyes, their role models and objects of admiration and learning. It casts upon us therefore to mind the kind of examples we set and the hidden messages we send.
Look at this case of a nine year old boy proudly showing a fountain pen to his dad
“Dad, I found this the corridor outside my class”
“Hey, it is a nice pen. What make is it?” the father asks
“Dad, it is Parker”
“You have been wanting one and how lucky you are to get it. So are you happy” the father tells
The boy runs along happy that his daddy is also glad that he got a pen and that he retained it with him. The lesson learnt is that it is acceptable to keep things that are not yours as long as you have not pilfered them. The dad failed to impress on the young mind that it is not good to keep what is not his and that should have handed itover at the school office. As a result the child starts coveting things that are not his.
Another common failing of dads is to tell the child to answer an inconvenient phone call and tell daddy is not at home. The man unwittingly teaches the child it is okay to give wrong information or utter a lie in certain circumstances.
The point to remember is that we should be aware of the power of hidden messages that we send to our children our actions or responses and the need for them to be consistent with the values we would like to impart them. An occasional aberration may not harm as much as regular frequent wrong examples that we set. With a little care and attention, the parents can set examples that are positive, ethical and humane. Home is the primary school from which children learn and parents are the teachers there. The mental well being of the children is being determined by the value system prevailing at homes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Praying with shopping list of demands

I was wondering whether a prayer can be devoid of our asking for things. But most do prayer only for requesting money, health, spouse, child, position, hardship for enemies, winning etc.When we commiserate with others who undergo pain or hardship, we advise them pray to God and He will give you this and that. We regard God as Santa Claus with bagful of goodies to be given when asked. Like children we persist more intensely if our requests are not granted. The prayer then tends to be one of supplication and appealing.
We may do the prayer silently chanting the name of god in our minds or loudly with gestures like folded arms or jumping and dancing with up raised arms. We may do singly or in groups but at the end of exercise, we come up with our shopping list of demands. Some ask God for things promising to break 100 coconuts or offer gold or money if their wishes are granted. I have even seen my grandson praying for a win of his favourite team in IPL matches and granddaughter wishing the opposite result. Is god really interested in these silly demands? When He does not grant after repeated prayers, we indulge in our remonstrations that He is blind to our sufferings or deaf to our pleas or heartless to our pitiable condition.
Why do we pray? Is asking for things the only reason for our prayers? Can there be a self less prayer? Is a prayer for the well being of children, friends, and members of the community or country any different from one seeking things? There may be nothing wrong in it and certainly is better than asking for oneself. But does not God know what is to be given when, where and to whom? Is he not omniscient and does he needs to be reminded?
My own take on this is that God answers our prayers if they fit with His scheme of things. Otherwise they remain unanswered. If that be so why do our religions and scriptures require us to pray and what are we supposed to ask for in our prayers? To my mind our prayers should be one of adoration of His many divine qualities and expression of gratefulness for the blessings given. There should be no demand even for liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. He knows when to free you from this bondage. Real prayer is communicating with god by singing His praises and leading a virtuous life according to His teachings. Work is worship. Doing the assigned jobs sincerely and well and leading an ethical life is highest form of worship. Prayer is nothing more than leading our life being aware of His presence all the time in all the things we do in our day to day life and being in communion with him

Grow flowers of gratitude in the soil of prayer. ~Terri Guillemets