Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Lie

A few days ago, I had a class on Corporate Governance and Ethics, where we covered quite a few recent cases on financial fraud, manipulation, insider trading, conflicts of interest and other accounting scandals caused or encouraged by lack of good governance. We also covered ethical dilemmas faced at work and the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies. It was a very interesting lesson to me, partly because I was seeing the gravity of the whole issue now. Sure, I had heard about Enron, WorldCom, Satyam and all the other scandals, but what surprises me every time I hear about them again and again is the fact that they all started small. Just a small manipulation here and there to beat the budget and keep the investors happy. So what if it's a little untrue? Can always catch up the next year round! And so it goes... till the gap is so wide it's almost impossible to bridge it.

We discussed the issue of ethics. Oh sure, it might seem like a very simple thing, but it's rather difficult to define what exactly ethics are. My professor explained it through this quote- “To be ethical is profitable, but to be ethical because it is profitable is not ethical. And, one might
add, it is also not profitable in the long run.” This got me thinking. It is definitely profitable to be ethical, at least in the long run. Think of goodwill, business reputation, support of stakeholders, responsible corporate citizenship and so on. At the same time, the firm might lose lucrative opportunities in the short run. Does it mean that the firm should be ethical only because it might be beneficial sometime later? Doesn't being ethical lose its meaning as a whole then, because it is just done for profits? As I thought about this later, I compared the situation to telling lies. As a child, I've been taught not to tell lies, because apparently, God would punish me. A little digression here might help me bring my point clearer.

A long time ago, my parents decided to take me on a pilgrimage to Tirupati. We travelled from Coimbatore to a town called Chitoor, in Andhra Pradesh, just across the border from Tamil Nadu. There, we met a friend of my parents' (whom I fondly used to refer to as Chitoor amooma) and she was to take us to the temple town. On the way, we stopped by at a temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Apparently, this temple is special- Chitoor amooma explained to us that the moorthy in the temple is an upholder of truth. Nobody can speak a lie in the vicinity of that temple. However one tries, it is simply impossible to speak anything contrary to the truth. As a result, all disputes were settled there, since it was believed that God himself forces the 'sinner' to voluntarily reveal the truth. I was just around six or seven at that time, but that day is crystal clear in my mind's eye. (A couple of months ago, back in Dubai, I was discussing special temples with my aunt Jayshree, and the memories came flooding back.)

Anyway, one can always argue about how to be sure that only the truth was revealed, or whether it is even possible to contemplate how God can force the truth out of any person. But that is not the point of this post. In my opinion, it all boils down to ones belief. The faith that God will forgive you if you speak the truth. Or the fear that God will punish you if you don't. My question is, would people still speak the truth, even if there is no God to punish or reward us? Would we still try to help people? Would we still be good human beings? Would we be tempted to steal, cheat, deceive? Would we still be able to face our inner conscience? Not because there is heaven or hell awaiting us, not out of faith or fear, not because of rewards or retribution; simply because that's the right thing to do. If yes, then there is still hope!

Post Script:
Amooma is a Malayalam term, meaning grandmother.
Moorthy is a Sanskrit term used to refer to the image of the Lord.

4 comments:

  1. As long as we can make the distinction between doing what is right(often the harder choice) to doing the ethically wrong thing(often the easier choice)- humanity will survive.

    Its the discretion that matters finally.

    Interesting perspective on the lying and deceiving front, well written.

    Cheers :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, as long as one is true to the inner conscience, things should be fine! The minute we can no longer face the person staring back from the mirror, things go haywire.
      Thank you for dropping by! Really appreciate it :)

      Delete
  2. Hmm, I think truth is a very vast and ambiguous subject. You see, it's not always black-and-white. One man's truth is another's lie. Speaking the truth out of fear is, I feel, still a more rudimentary form of evolution. It is undoubtedly needed, but one can evolve beyond the fear and still do what is right.

    This can be illustrated from Indian mythology itself. In the Ramayana, Rama is the epitome of virtue. Truth is upheld no matter what. Duty and righteousness come first, and so does fear of the lord. This is one kind of life, living by the rule, and by the book.

    Then comes Mahabharata, with Krishna, who is a more evolved Rama. The next avatar. Krishna plays with the truth, twisting and bending it to his will. At places, he might even refrain from speaking the truth. And yet, this is portrayed in a positive light, because his intent is good. So with the right intent in mind, one need not ever have to fear the Almighty. Even if there was no controlling or punishing figure, one will always do the right thing, because of the right intent.

    So, I suppose it's about evolving from one state to another. I hope I made sense here :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes only ethical businesses can survive and flourish.
    "You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time."
    -Abraham Lincoln

    ReplyDelete

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Lie

A few days ago, I had a class on Corporate Governance and Ethics, where we covered quite a few recent cases on financial fraud, manipulation, insider trading, conflicts of interest and other accounting scandals caused or encouraged by lack of good governance. We also covered ethical dilemmas faced at work and the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies. It was a very interesting lesson to me, partly because I was seeing the gravity of the whole issue now. Sure, I had heard about Enron, WorldCom, Satyam and all the other scandals, but what surprises me every time I hear about them again and again is the fact that they all started small. Just a small manipulation here and there to beat the budget and keep the investors happy. So what if it's a little untrue? Can always catch up the next year round! And so it goes... till the gap is so wide it's almost impossible to bridge it.

We discussed the issue of ethics. Oh sure, it might seem like a very simple thing, but it's rather difficult to define what exactly ethics are. My professor explained it through this quote- “To be ethical is profitable, but to be ethical because it is profitable is not ethical. And, one might
add, it is also not profitable in the long run.” This got me thinking. It is definitely profitable to be ethical, at least in the long run. Think of goodwill, business reputation, support of stakeholders, responsible corporate citizenship and so on. At the same time, the firm might lose lucrative opportunities in the short run. Does it mean that the firm should be ethical only because it might be beneficial sometime later? Doesn't being ethical lose its meaning as a whole then, because it is just done for profits? As I thought about this later, I compared the situation to telling lies. As a child, I've been taught not to tell lies, because apparently, God would punish me. A little digression here might help me bring my point clearer.

A long time ago, my parents decided to take me on a pilgrimage to Tirupati. We travelled from Coimbatore to a town called Chitoor, in Andhra Pradesh, just across the border from Tamil Nadu. There, we met a friend of my parents' (whom I fondly used to refer to as Chitoor amooma) and she was to take us to the temple town. On the way, we stopped by at a temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Apparently, this temple is special- Chitoor amooma explained to us that the moorthy in the temple is an upholder of truth. Nobody can speak a lie in the vicinity of that temple. However one tries, it is simply impossible to speak anything contrary to the truth. As a result, all disputes were settled there, since it was believed that God himself forces the 'sinner' to voluntarily reveal the truth. I was just around six or seven at that time, but that day is crystal clear in my mind's eye. (A couple of months ago, back in Dubai, I was discussing special temples with my aunt Jayshree, and the memories came flooding back.)

Anyway, one can always argue about how to be sure that only the truth was revealed, or whether it is even possible to contemplate how God can force the truth out of any person. But that is not the point of this post. In my opinion, it all boils down to ones belief. The faith that God will forgive you if you speak the truth. Or the fear that God will punish you if you don't. My question is, would people still speak the truth, even if there is no God to punish or reward us? Would we still try to help people? Would we still be good human beings? Would we be tempted to steal, cheat, deceive? Would we still be able to face our inner conscience? Not because there is heaven or hell awaiting us, not out of faith or fear, not because of rewards or retribution; simply because that's the right thing to do. If yes, then there is still hope!

Post Script:
Amooma is a Malayalam term, meaning grandmother.
Moorthy is a Sanskrit term used to refer to the image of the Lord.

4 comments:

  1. As long as we can make the distinction between doing what is right(often the harder choice) to doing the ethically wrong thing(often the easier choice)- humanity will survive.

    Its the discretion that matters finally.

    Interesting perspective on the lying and deceiving front, well written.

    Cheers :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, as long as one is true to the inner conscience, things should be fine! The minute we can no longer face the person staring back from the mirror, things go haywire.
      Thank you for dropping by! Really appreciate it :)

      Delete
  2. Hmm, I think truth is a very vast and ambiguous subject. You see, it's not always black-and-white. One man's truth is another's lie. Speaking the truth out of fear is, I feel, still a more rudimentary form of evolution. It is undoubtedly needed, but one can evolve beyond the fear and still do what is right.

    This can be illustrated from Indian mythology itself. In the Ramayana, Rama is the epitome of virtue. Truth is upheld no matter what. Duty and righteousness come first, and so does fear of the lord. This is one kind of life, living by the rule, and by the book.

    Then comes Mahabharata, with Krishna, who is a more evolved Rama. The next avatar. Krishna plays with the truth, twisting and bending it to his will. At places, he might even refrain from speaking the truth. And yet, this is portrayed in a positive light, because his intent is good. So with the right intent in mind, one need not ever have to fear the Almighty. Even if there was no controlling or punishing figure, one will always do the right thing, because of the right intent.

    So, I suppose it's about evolving from one state to another. I hope I made sense here :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes only ethical businesses can survive and flourish.
    "You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time."
    -Abraham Lincoln

    ReplyDelete