March 2014 By Suma Varughese Almost all ethical disputes get resolved when you take a long-term view, says Suma Varughese It was exam time and the atmosphere at the Sathe household was tense. As they tucked into dinner one Sunday night, enjoying the sarson ka saag and makki ki roti Mom had made, the conversation kept recurring to that dominant theme. Avijeet was holding forth. “Just sick of the whole thing. As if this one exam can determine my competence. Some of my friends are planning to cheat, and I can quite sympathise with them. It’s a rotten system anyway, so why should they not try to beat it?” he said. “Well, that may get them through their exams, but won’t they need that knowledge once they pass out and take a job?,” asked Ajoba. Avijeet scowled, “I guess so,” he said. “In that case, don’t you think they should apply themselves to thoroughly preparing for their exams?,” asked Ajoba. “Yah, I guess you are right,” said Avijeet disgustedly, but offering no further dispute. “It’s funny, isn’t it,” said Dad, “that almost all ethical issues get resolved when you think of the long-term consequences? Whenever we are in doubt, all we need to do is to think of the long-term consequences of our action.” “Really, Dad?” said Nisha, intrigued. “Does it really work out that way? “Yes,” said Ajoba. “Thinking long-term will always show us the right action. For instance, if we look at the ordinary rules of right or wrong, like honesty, integrity, and so on, you will find that it will always have long-term benefits. In the short term, cheating, manipulating and other skullduggery will benefit us, but never in the long term.” “Yes, mail order companies that try and cheat the customer by offering illicit goods are simply in the business to make a quick buck,” said Dad. “That is why they are not bothered about ethics. Companies who intend to last the long run, will have a commitment to customer satisfaction, otherwise they will close down.” “The same thing applies to relationships too, doesn’t it,” said Nisha. “If you lie or manipulate, or put down someone, the relationship is sure to rupture.” “Exactly,” said Dad. “If you want your relationships to last, think long-term. Take marriage, one of the most difficult relationships to sustain. It cannot work unless both parties are committed to the long term, to making the marriage last, and to using everything, including the problems and challenges, to solder the bond and not fray it.” “Like you and Mom,” said Alka, squeezing her Mom’s hands. Mom nodded soberly, “Yes, kids. Dad and I have a beautiful bond today, but it was hard work. Only our commitment to the relationship, and to the children we had created, gave us the strength to power through some of the hurdles.” “As a civilisation, we are today suffering some of the consequences of short-term thinking,” said Ajoba. “Our belief that creation is random and fragmented has given us such a deluded perspective on life, and has created so much damage. It has caused us to exploit nature, to exploit animals and each other. It has caused us to create systems that are separatist, such as allopathy in medicine, or an architecture that does not take into account the relationship of our spaces to the larger universe. Today, focusing on convenience, we have created any number of products that may benefit us in the short term, but is shown to have long-term negative consequences.” Mom nodded, “A stark example of this is the food we eat. It is so astonishing that we are consenting to be poisoned by pesticides and fertilisers, just so some farmer can have a better yield. And in the long run, the poor farmer himself is the victim, because his land gets ruined.” Dad looked rueful, “Our entire culture is a testimony to the folly of following short-term thinking,” he said. “And we are paying the price through sickness, pollution, violence and so much else.” The children looked troubled. Where is it all going to end, Dad?” asked Alka. “Not to worry,” Dad said, reassuringly, “Things are getting better. We are culturally in the midst of making an about turn. More and more are stumbling upon the ultimate truth that the universe is one and adjusting their stances. As larger sections of society realise this truth, we are going to transition to a happier and more harmonious time. But all this will take time.” He added,“ When scientists and inventors get this, then finally we will have products that are holistic, benefitting everyone and everything, damaging no one and nothing.” “Will a holistic engineer be of any help, Dad?” asked Avijeet. “Absolutely,” said his Dad, giving him a warm hug. “Dad, you remember a few weeks back you talked about Preya and Shreya. So is Preya about short-term benefits, and Shreya about long-term ones?” continued Avijeet. “Well, I hadn’t quite thought about it that way, but you are right. Preya is about short-term benefits, and Shreya about long-term ones.” “So it’s back to wooing Shreya then?” “I guess so,” smiled Dad. Sathe family fact file: The Sathe family lives in Mumbai and consists of Ashwin Sathe, a trainer and counsellor and Abha Sathe, a writer of children’s books. Ashwin’s parents, known as Aji and Ajoba, stay with them. Ajoba is a retired college professor turned Vedanta teacher. Ashwin and Abha have three children: Avijit (20) an engineering student, Nisha (19) in her second year in college studying Eng Lit and Alka (16) in her class 10. The family meets every Sunday over dinner, where problems are thrashed out and solutions offered.
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