Ethics - WHAT`S RIGHT, WHAT`S WRONG?
by Life Positive
The ultimate happiness and prosperity can come from our being attuned to the universal principles. Our behavior and values
The fabric of society is held together by the standards of morality that we maintain and practice. Values are our personal set of beliefs about what is important, unimportant, right, wrong, good and bad. In other words, values are a kind of map in our minds of how things are or should be. Just as a map is not the territory, values are only our perception of the principles of nature that govern our lives or the universe, not the principles themselves.
Throughout history, this world has seen individuals, families, societies and nations dying for want of values that sustain life—almost with the same certainty with which a plant dies for want of water. We can choose our values to be in harmony with the laws of the universe or to challenge them. Laws are fixed, so are the consequences of breaking them. We cannot break the laws of the universe; we can only break ourselves against them.
The real asset of a nation is not its natural resources, but people with right values. Just as it is futile to fill a leaking bucket, it is futile to think of economic reforms and progress without relinking ourselves with our lost values. All over the world and more so in our country, what we need first and foremost are solutions that can be utilized on a wide scale and on a long-term basis for reestablishing moral values.
Are values really on the decline in the contemporary world or is this a perception common to every age?
"History is replete with instances of sons killing fathers to usurp power. Earlier, the news did not spread so far and so fast. Today, it does. As a result, we feel there is more crime and decline in values," says Bikram Uppal, a young executive with SAIL. However, others disagree. D.R. Karthikeyan, director-general, NHRC, says that deterioration in values is so fast and steep that it is perceivable year after year.
Someone aptly summed up the situation thus: "Earlier, people would say: 'How can we speak a lie-we have a family to look after.' Today, they say: 'How can we speak the truth-we have a family to support'".
Indeed, the erosion of values is one of the major concerns of today's society. Human beings are similar in every generation; it is probably the increasing stress, fast pace of life, keen competition and overvaulting ambition to achieve too much in too little time that has made today's man seemingly less principled than his ancestors. This explains, but does not excuse us of responsibility for the widespread decline in values: even in today's turmoil and stress, people of integrity are still around.
Some of us consider it patriotic to deny that we are corrupt as a nation. Accepting, not ignoring reality is the first step to set it right. Lord Buddha said: "If you want to untie a knot, first learn how it came into being."
WHY THIS DECLINE?
Philosophical reasons: Identifying with the physical body. We think we are our bodies. With this belief begin all the attitudinal problems. It makes us feel that we are islands. When we see people dying, our ego rebels since it wants to continue. Continuance implies continuance of the body, which we identify with. The need for continuity breeds the need for security. Deep down we are eternal beings-omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.
In our search for pleasure, we become greedy. Greed gives rise to fears-of not being able to fulfill our needs. Fears give rise to the need for false psychological protection in beliefs.
We have convinced ourselves that money is the solution to all our problems. However, money is only a manifestation of and flows from abundance, not vice versa. Prosperity is a vector. It has magnitude and direction. Most people focus only on the magnitude, not the direction it may take one's life towards-happiness (if one is rich spiritually too) or misery, stress and insecurity (if one lacks inner purity).
"When the heart is empty it collects things. And the one who dies rich lives in vain," said Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian philosopher. Today, we are looking for happiness where it is not. Cut off from our inner being, there is a constant dependence on, and struggle for, external things for fulfillment. People, therefore, often amass wealth through unethical means but fail to remove their inner poverty. We fail to realize that the most precious things are those that money cannot buy. When one focuses one's attention exclusively on external success, one may get there faster only to find that the one who was supposed to enjoy this success has already been lost somewhere on the way.
It is in vogue these days to abort discussions and concerns regarding the degrading values in our society with the question: "Right according to whom?" This may give us a transitory feeling of intellectual superiority, but deep within we all know that primary values like honesty, sincerity and commitment to family, society and humanity as a whole command respect wherever they exist. We may not be able to define honesty, but we know what it is.
If values were so subjective, why would Mother Teresa have commanded such universal reverence? Why would a thief or a murderer be imprisoned? How these values are defined, interpreted and applied in real-life can be debated-but their intrinsic correctness is universally accepted. They are not so subjective that we cannot decide, for example, whether honesty is more desirable than dishonesty, or whether killing fellow humans for money should be punished.
No society has ever respected cowardice over courage. Fairness, kindness, dignity, charity, integrity, honesty, concern for others, patience, empathy, compassion, justice, integrity and commitment are among the desirable primary values that have been accepted universally in every age. Values may be subjective, but not the principles of Nature. For example, Hitler was value-driven but not principle-driven. He followed certain personal values, which were out of step with the principles of nature.
Psychological reasons: What inferences we draw from what we observe depends not on what actually transpires but on how we perceive or process it, which depends on our state of consciousness. A person who relies merely on the senses takes every event to be a result of sheer chance. He is bound to choose different values from the one who appreciates that there is an underlying interconnection and order in the events of our lives.
The greatest tragedy of the modern world is that it has given us enough to live with but nothing to live for. Today, our purpose of life has become hazy. Existence has become more important than living. People today do not ask themselves what they feel concerned about and what they would like to dedicate their lives to; they ask which field has better 'scope'. They seek to take decisions on the basis of what lies in the external world, instead of being driven from within. But unless we find a cause to live for, we are not fit to live.
With increasing distances to commute to our workplaces and devoting more time to work, we are left with little time for ourselves, to acquire calm and stillness. In the absence of this calm we find ourselves unable to take stock of the direction of our life vis-à-vis our core values. So the lack of intention to interact with our inner selves, too, is at the root of the problem.
We hardly have time to look up and admire the beauty of the sky or appreciate the mysteries of Nature. We have lost the capacity to enjoy small 'nothings' of life. Like antibiotics, we seem to need bigger and still bigger doses of excitement to make us feel happy.
We seem to be driven not from our strong will to act correctly, but more from our reaction to others' behavior. "I will teach him the lesson of his life", has become the motto for many. The scale to which we can harm and hurt others has become an index of our supremacy. The saner alternative of forgiveness has taken a back seat and is considered a sign of being timid, weak and lacking in self-respect. If everyone starts reacting without giving a chance to one's higher values, you can imagine the consequences.
"Today, our need for self-preservation and material gain takes precedence over concern for society and the community," says Aura Riana, freelance writer.
Many of us are unable to see beyond our own interest. We feel bad about this only when we are at the receiving end. This happens because we fail to see the same 'self' in others that has the same needs, expectations and rights. If only we could perceive the Big Plan of the cosmic mind that interconnects all living beings, we would learn that when we give, we give to ourselves and when we hold happiness from others, we hold it from ourselves. The greatest paradox of life is that when we hold on to life for ourselves, we inevitably lose it, but when we decide to use it for 'giving', we regain it.
Mahatma Gandhi used to say that there is enough in this world to satisfy man's need, but not his greed. S.B. Gogate, an Indian interior designer-turned-corporate trainer, feels that "conversion of needs into greed prevents right values from prevailing in our society". Greed manifests itself as absence of trust in the Big Plan, belief in scarcity and a general feeling of insecurity.
The fact that corruption is a universal phenomenon and ours is not the only nation facing it, should not be a source of solace to us. Nor keep us from finding solutions to our problems. Think of whatever little you can do, and do it. It is easy to shift the blame on a faceless agency or the system, but it makes the problem persist. Accepting that change is required and we alone can bring it about, is the first step towards change.
We think worshipping God or great people can be a good and easier substitute for following values. Often those who feel guilty of making money through dishonest means, think that they can ward off karmic repercussions by building temples or making donations. They fail to realize that Nature is not interested in punishing them, only in making them learn the correct values. And if they refuse to learn voluntarily, they will leave no option for Nature or God but to make them learn the harder way.
We apprehend that upholding right values may go against pecuniary interests. Is our economy suffering because of values or for want of them? Any company that creates trust along with its products is bound to perform better financially. People do not buy the product; they buy the trust. "Ethics can play a major role in making our nation great. Industry, vested with higher credibility, will get a boost both in the domestic and international markets," says M.M. Luther, former secretary-general of FICCI and a management consultant. Karthikeyan states: "Ethics alone will make ours a great nation." An attitude towards life, which is in harmony with the laws of nature and hence imbued with strong positive values, is the only possible source of sustainable bliss and prosperity. No amount of material planning, wealth and connections with people in high places can be a substitute for that. Dr M.B. Athreya, management guru, asserts: "In the medium to long-term phase, ethics make sustainable riches. Dharmo rakshiti rakshtah: Preserve dharma; it protects."
We conceive that trying to uphold values may be frustrating. However, frustration and upholding values are two different things. Frustration follows one's inability to fulfill some expectation; take away the expectation and the frustration will cease. Frustration accompanies upholding of values only when we are using values as a rational strategy towards an end or to seek approval. When values are exercised as a choiceless response from one's intrinsic nature, where does the question arise of getting frustrated?
We think that we cannot afford values since the rewards of upholding them are intangible, whereas those of breaking them are concrete. That may be true, but there is another higher truth: the tangible, manifest world comes from the unmanifest. Focus on making your inner, intangible world great by purifying it with strong values. The external world shall change accordingly.
Social reasons: Breaking up of joint families into nuclear families. Most homes do not have a value-giver today. Homes have turned into mere houses where family members come to eat, watch TV and sleep. Akhilesh Kumar Singh Chandela, a security guard, says: "Values are inculcated by the mother, who is usually not available to the child for the major part of the day. When the mother arrives home after the day's work, she is already too tired and has other things to look after. At the most she manages to help them in doing the homework—often not even that. Then, usually the whole family sits before the TV till bedtime. Where are the values going to come from?"
Today, there is a powerful image of people, who seem to be leading happy and respectable lives even without ethics. Respect is proportional to money and external achievements, not to the quality of means employed to get them. Impressionable young minds choose unhealthy role models for themselves early in their lives.
Shyama Chona, principal of Delhi Public School and founder of Tamanna, a school for the disabled, says: "There is concern over the state of urban youth. The educated city youth apes his Western counterpart with pride. He is filled with ideas and attitudes unrelated to our traditions and culture. He must be taught anew to appreciate his Indianness and the glory of our past."
"An unpleasant, combative environment at home and unresponsive, unsympathetic or ignorant teachers who cannot act as role models, are the principal reasons for decline of values," says Luther.
Our school textbooks talk more about wars than about the lives of people with exemplary values. The students look for role models from the contemporary world, as they can relate to them. However, textbooks imply that such people lived only in Sat Yuga (the spiritually evolved era according to Hinduism) or centuries ago. The media also underplays reports of exemplary people as it assumes that good deeds are uninteresting, hence unsaleable.
Cutthroat competition and the resulting higher stress levels. Stress may affect moral reasoning capacity and the ability to use it in real-life situations. Competitiveness exists because instead of trying to discover who we are, where our roots lie and how we can serve others, we are trying to become what we are not. Instead of trusting that real security comes from within, we are looking for it in money, possessions and power.
There's an ancient story about a frog, which, having been told by his friend about an elephant, went on bloating his tummy to confirm from his friend if the cited creature was that big. Then, he exploded. We must remember that everyone has a place. A frog need not try to become an elephant to gain importance since, in the scheme of this universe, he is already as important as an elephant.
Pythagoras once said: "Humans who kill animals for food tend to lose their sensitivity; they tend to see killing of their fellow humans with the same apathy." Whatever be Pythagoras' reasoning, the fact is that we do exhibit the kind of insensitivity he's talking about. It is paradoxical that as physical distances are shrinking, the psychological ones are widening. Nothing seems to stir us. Is it because we fail to see the same self in others that we so readily see within us?
Administrative reasons: "The decreasing faith in, respect for and fear of law; the increasing delay and cost, making justice inaccessible to large segments of the population; and the near-collapse of the established grievance redressal system are some of the factors," says Karthikeyan. Criminals believe that they can get away provided they have the right connections or money. On the other hand, innocent victims have nowhere to go. Since independence, not a single case comes to mind where a big politician or criminal was punished for misappropriating public money. Luther says: "There should be visible and transparent punishment-and-reward systems in the industry and government, providing exemplary punishment to those guilty of misdemeanor."
When I can get my car license delivered at home without having to clear a driving test, I am tempted. This occurs when normal routes are either arduous or almost closed. Routes are made arduous when there is a demand from the top for money, not performance. This is because we choose insecure people to lead us. This happens because secure people do not feel the need to be chosen, in order to serve society.
What can be done: Let the media shift its focus to rebuilding values. The scripts of soap operas should be written responsibly, since they influence millions of people. The scriptwriters probably do not realize the great opportunity (and hence responsibility) that they have. Preference should be given to soap operas that are based on inspiring real-life incidents. Images of rich and happy people who used the right values to get rich, and of those who led miserable lives despite being rich for want of values, can transform the viewers' minds.
Advertisements, too, can play a role. They do not become less effective if they carry powerful messages promoting right values. On the contrary, it builds the image of the company. And people buy the image of the product before the product itself. LG's New Heroes is one such series aired by Zee News, wherein people of extraordinary achievements, having strong values are introduced. And who does not want to know about successful and inspiring people? Values can be rebuilt in our country if we start giving the same kind of publicity to them that we give to the World Cup Cricket.
Revamp our political system. Frequently, we vote for a party, not the candidate. We are often left with the option of choosing the least undesirable candidate. This is because the right to decide who can contest is in the hands of politicians. People can only vote for candidates who are given tickets by political parties.
Each candidate should be required to fulfill a minimum criterion. In our country, an applicant for a peon's job has to have some qualification, but a political leader needs none. A criminal or illiterate person can be the leader of the largest democracy in the world! When there is three-tier screening for selecting civil servants, why should there not be tougher screening for the politicians who command them?
I propose that institutes be opened for developing politicians, with focus on personality development and value orientation, and after graduating, they are screened by an autonomous board before being allowed to contest.
Revamp our education system: Shyama Chona, emphasizing the need for value-based education, says: "Ultimately it is the morality of man that makes or breaks him. If it is true that 'the destiny of India is being shaped in her classrooms', let us change the educational pattern. Inculcating character-building values is perhaps the most meaningful contribution we can make to the lives of our children."
Rishi Pal Chauhan, with his American friend Steven Rudolf, is doing commendable work in this direction through the Jiva Institute that he heads. The three areas the institute is focusing on are education, health and culture. Chauhan says that education should develop both skills and ethics, as was done in gurukuls. Today, there is almost no correlation between what the student is taught and the life he is leading.
Luther advocates meditation, prayers and yoga in the school curriculum. Karthikeyan, stressing the need for value-based education from the primary level, says: "Skills and knowledge are important, but far more important are attitude and values." Textbooks should include stories of people of exemplary ethics. Parents and teachers should follow values, and convey unequivocal and confident messages on upholding right values.
No one has ever become a saint by inculcating values. One has to discover and believe in one's saintliness within. Values flow from one's self-image, not vice-versa. Once we help a child realize his spirituality and make him perceive himself as a spiritual giant, the task of value education becomes easier. A child who is convinced of his divine heritage behaves like a saint without knowing it.
Revamp our administration and grievance-redressal machinery. Karthikeyan underlines the need for these systems to be made functional, fair, speedy and effective. He feels that society should demonstrate that those who do not believe in and practice right values would have no place in governance and in all walks of life.
Reduce stress level in people's lives. Educational institutions and offices should not require anybody to commute large distances. If possible, accommodation should be provided on the campus. No office or factory should function for more than five days in a week. Staying beyond office hours should be discouraged. The hours lost can easily be compensated by effective time management.
Let us slow down our pace, try to find our purpose in the scheme of the universe through our liking, talents and aptitudes. An effective and efficient cobbler is better than an incompetent engineer or doctor. It is not a particular profession that guarantees you abundance and happiness, but your competence.
So just forget about competition... there isn't any except in your mind. Just go on moving within yourself, towards yourself and get linked to your roots. Discover your purpose and give your life to it.
View things from your children's perspective and understand them before expecting them to see your point of view. This will develop trust in them. Children adapt to parental values that get internalized if trust exists between parent and child. Children are sensitive and can recognize uncertainty and confusion in their parents' value system, and can become disenchanted with following the rules when they find that their parents' deeds do not match their words. Do not confuse the child by your double standards or by reacting inconsistently to their behavior. Let children see the logical connection between their deeds and the likely consequences.
We feel disillusioned with values because our leaders do not exhibit congruence between words and deeds. "Our rewards, leadership, positions, appreciation and recognition ought to go only to those who live by high values, not to those who merely speak them," says Kiran Bedi. Similarly, we should be vigilant to detect any hypocrisy in our behavior.
I am convinced that people can be transformed, irrespective of their age and conditioning. All that is required is to make them trust the light within and see the need to remove all that keeps our real light from shining forth. Who can doubt that personality traits of people can be transformed, having witnessed the incredible transformation of the prisoners of Tihar jail in Delhi, India.
Javed Raza, an inmate, says: "When I came to Tihar jail in July 1997, I had thought that it was going to be the worst experience of my life. But 22 months since, the experience has turned out to be a lifesaver, one that has changed me for the better, made me happy and hopeful for the future. The first vipassana course taught me to let go of a lot of my anger and anxiety. Instead of feeling angry and disappointed with people and events, I now feel love and compassion. And I understand deep down that if I am feeling angry or distressed, it is not because of the person or the event that appears to be causing it, but because of my own lack of equanimity towards my mental contents and physical sensations."
Countless people are taking quantum leaps in their personal growth with vipassana, reiki, meditation, prayers, self-observation and other transformation tools. We should try to transform ourselves, not for the sake of society, but for ourselves and the world that our children are going to inherit.
All that it requires is patience, faith and perseverance. Here faith means that we view the happenings in our lives—howsoever unjust or purposeless they may appear—as timely and essential gifts from God in the best interests of our growth and ultimate happiness. So we should not wait for others to change first, because transforming ourselves is not a sacrifice but something that will ensure bliss, harmony and transformation in our external circumstances too.
Subject: How to improve our values - 15 March 2010
I do heartily appreciate your thoughts in the article above, and I reluctantly agree with your premise that having values is seen by the many as a sort of losing out in the prizes life offers. To my mind, the way forward is through education - not merely forma education, but essentially More...
by: Robert Leslie Fielding
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