questioning the morality of many of my actions only in my mid-thirties,
which I think was quite late in life. I found myself confronting
among others the question of whether what I did to earn a living was
morally right. I knew that it was not right to rob people to eke
a living, but I had never thought beyond.
I soon gave
up my consulting career because I was disillusioned with its
ethics. I was lobbying for changes in Indian regulations to
enable foeign businesses to get a foothold in India. Thus I was
facilitating the closure of several Indian businesses like my friendly
next-door provision store. In exchange for fee hikes or lucrative
consulting work, our firm gave companies a clean chit in their audit
reports knowing that all was not well with their financials. We
referred our clients routinely to other consultants for doing dirty
work but were not counselling them to follow straighter (painful)
I then worked for a big International NGO that lobbied for the cause of the environment, thinking rather naiively that I was firmly on the ethical path. But I soon found myself jetting around, sipping coke and wiping greasy hands on paper napkins at off site meetings, putting the lid on past legal violations by the organisation and drawing a fat salary financed by donations from the common man who felt he was contributing his hard earned money for the environment! I did not last there for more than a few months.
attended a session for parents organised as a part of the
career-conselling programme at my daughter's school. The
consellor waxed eloquent, among other matters, about the great salaries
that NGOs paid nowadays (for implementing poverty alleviation and other
social programmes). I found that morally questionable advice.
currently debating with my brother-in-law whether it is right to work
for a company that undertakes research projects for the military
establishment if one believes in ahimsa
. He is finding it difficult to appreciate that there could be
moral issues there.
to write this piece because I am pained to see within and around me
unwillingness to consider the morality of our actions beyond a
comfortable superficial level, especially when it involves sources of
it is especially important to examine our work related decisions with a
fine ethical toothcomb because we spend more than half our waking lives
in such activity. Such work becomes a way of life for many of
us. It is therefore important that we are convinced about its
Many of us
advise our children nowadays to follow their heart while making career
choices. We tell them there is opportunity in every field.
But do we teach them to merge their passions with work that is socially
beneficial, relevant, and important?
How deep should we delve, if we must, while confronting our vocations with the tests of morality? Should one apply the test to the work done by the individual, or broaden its scope to the work of his or her organisation, or further stretch it to the areas of application of the work by the customers of the organisation or even beyond?
should a kitchen knife maker stop making knives because he knows that a
few of them would be used in domestic violence? Would it be
morally right to buy the shares of automobile companies if one supports
the cause of the environment or to argue that my brother-in-law should
resign his job at the firm that undertakes research projects on
materials to be used in military applications if he truly believes in ahimsa ? Or is that
stretching the moral argument a bit too far?
in life should one think about the morality of one's career choice --
while embarking on one's career, or mid career, or after one has made
enough money? Is it right to give up a cushy job or close down a
running business on moral grounds when family or employees depend on
them? What should get precedence -- morality of the work that one
is doing or one's responsibilities towards one's dependents?
I am inclined to put the morality of my work over my passions and responsibilities in the decision matrix. I think it is important to look beyond one's desk as further as possible to ensure that one's work does not have an undesirable social or environmental impact, even if that means sacrificing one's passion or financial stability. It is also necessary to continuously apply ethical tests to one's practices, however noble the cause. As Gandhiji said, the means to the end are as important as the end itself. I am guilty of having applied moral tests to my work when I had made my money. But I do not believe that is the way to go.
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