The Battlefield – Pleasure Versus Morality

People madly pursue materialism to lead a happy life. A person’s main belief is that expensive products give pleasure; hence more the money, more the pleasure, more happiness. In leading a pleasurable life, if some ethics need to be compromised, so be it. When the ultimate goal is happiness, some sacrifices are worth it. It is better to subdue the conscience, than listen to the voice within when hurting someone or breaking laws. It is a dog eat dog world, and the toughest will reach the top of the food chain. Therefore, morality be damned; either ways everyone is doing it, so why not me? Morals won’t pay the medical bill, money will.

To live a happy life, does one has to choose between pleasure and ethics? If so, what is pleasure? As per Oxford dictionary – a) feeling of satisfaction or contentment; b) source of enjoyment and delight; c) sensual gratification or indulgence. Materialism focuses on b and c parts of the definition, it doesn’t give contentment. Simply put, a content person sleeps when his/her head touches a pillow. Money gained from an illegal means cannot provide contentment. The insidious fear of being caught  generally erodes all feelings of peace and contentment.

To illustrate, let us say that a person has acquired US$ 50 million through fraudulent means. To protect himself from being caught by intelligence agencies, he has involved 50 other people in the fraudulent activities. He has ensured that those 50 others also earn US$ 50 million each. He has cleverly used 20 different countries with 20 different methods of frauds over a period of 10 years to remain undetected. He lives in the lap of luxury and so do the other 50. Do you think, any of them can say they are happy? Most probably, they need sleeping pills, alcohol and drugs to have eight hours of sleep at night.

The misconception about morality arose from Utilitarian or Happiness theory by philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The theory differentiates between right and wrong on the basis of happiness obtained by the majority.  It holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. Hence, people misconstrued that doing immoral things is okay if it makes the majority of the people happy.

However, J.S. Mill pointed out a fundamental misinterpretation by most, of the term pleasure and morality. He said it is incorrect to assume that pursuit of pleasure equals an immoral sub-human behavior “worthy of a swine.”   Human beings have faculties higher than animals hence degrading themselves to pursue perverse desires isn’t suggested by the Happiness theory.

The theory on the other hand mentions the higher order of pleasures. Michael Sandel in his lecture gave a simple example of the same. He asked a question to his students  – if given a choice, would you watch Shakespeare’s play, Simpsons or Fear Factor. Though most would watch Simpsons, Shakespeare’s plays offers better mental enlightenment and higher satisfaction. The difference is that most human beings need to be taught to appreciate higher pleasures of life, while lower ones come naturally.

Therefore, does the confusion between pleasure and morality prevail because most humans are not taught the higher pleasures of life. As per Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs Theory”, self- actualization needs are at the top of the pyramid. People primarily focus on meeting physiological, safety and social needs. Most follow lower road to morality even when they are aware. For example, in India in social events, song numbers by heroines (example Chhammak Challo, Sheila Ki Jawani) though absolutely crass, are enacted by 4-10 year old girls publicly in the presence of their parents and various adults. This of course raises the questions – are we teaching kids the wrong things to get pleasures in life?

Closing Thoughts

The battle between pleasure and morality appears more of a case of lack of education in higher orders of pleasure. Maybe something as simple as educational institutions inculcating the desire for self-actualization in students would transform the society. The focus would shift from materialism to morality. As the saying goes, money may pay the medical bill, but one cannot buy good health. Will continue my meanderings on the subject. What do you say?


Justice at Harvard- J.S. Mill Utilitarianism Theory

Anna Hazare, An Ambassador of Anti-Corruption Movement in India

Finally, this week someone decided to be a bull in the china shop and nearly sank the smoothly sailing ship of corruption in India. Congratulations to Anna Hazare, the Gandhian social activist, for having the moral courage to battle the Indian government for the benefit of civil society.

Anna Hazare

His strong protest against government’s lip service to fight corruption by passing the diluted Lok Pal bill got the desired result. His fast until death decision and public support made Indian government buckle under the pressure. After 90 hours of fasting and protesting non-violently as per Gandhian methods, he won. The government decided to meet Anna Hazare’s demands. He is one of the few leaders in India who can full this off. Visit his site to read more about him.

To me, his victory indicated two things. The Lokpal or Ombudsman Bill was not receiving the desired attention from over four decades. It was first proposed in 1966 and since then has been presented in parliament on a number of occasions but without success. With the government’s agreement to present it in this monsoon session of the parliament, we might see some progress against corruption. It is definitely a good first step and we need to keep the momentum.

The second aspect is that it has shown the Indian youth the power of a non-violent protest and showcased Gandhian principles. Presently, with terrorism increasing and social values deteriorating, youth perceives aggressive action as effective action. As a society, we need to start thinking differently and have the moral courage to take tough decisions to root out corruption from society. Anna Hazare led the way and we need to follow through.

In this week’s roundup, I am covering three posts presenting divergent viewpoints on anti-corruption crusade.

The first post –Anna Hazare, Lokpal Bill and the Red Brigade is from Ullas Sharma’s Blog. Mr. Sharma is presenting a contrary view to public’s enthusiastic view. His belief is that this civil society protest is harmful to democracy and maybe subjugated to meeting political parties agendas. While we may not appreciate a cynical opinion, when our emotions are on the upswing, it is always good to listen to diametrically opposing view to keep our feet on the ground and heads out of the cloud.

The second post showcases that corrupt are successful in India because of the public mindset. Daniel Goleman (author of Social Intelligence) will be hard-pressed to explain how a society considers associating with corrupt people as socially intelligent behavior. Indians are mute spectators of crime and corruption. In an Indian’s view, Spinelessness plus Greed equals Practical Thinking. Multiply this with other dysfunctional behavior and thinking and you will have the definition of an influential person in Indian society. Ratan Datta in his blog post – “Anna Hazare – his crusade against Corruption, his fast & Lokpal Bill” brought out the core problem of corruption mindset of Indians. He has forthrightly stated that a law will not help if public accepts and encourages corrupt practices and behavior in daily life

Not to miss the humor in the situation, Jaspal Bhatti with his Nonsense Club was at his satirical best. He initiated a project for building a Corruption Devta (god) temple in front of parliament. He protested for common-man’s right to be as corrupt as politicians. He stated that government should remove barriers that deprive a common man from reaping the rewards of corruption. Read his interview in webindia123 – Bhatti joins Hazare crusade; to raise ‘Temple of Corruption’ in Delhi. Mr. Bhatti with his usual panache has very delicately hit the nail on the head.

1.   Anna Hazare, Lokpal Bill and the Red Brigade (Via Ullas Sharma’s Blog)

There is no doubt that corruption is on the increase. It is also true that we need to nip it in the bud. But I am not too sure the way to go about it is the introduction of the Lokpal Bill in the form envisaged by the social activists lead by Anna Hazare.

1. They want that anyone from the civil society may be appointed as the Lokpal and not necessarily a judge from the Supreme Court, which means that any of these innumerable social activists that are creating ruckus at the Jantar Mantar will be eligible for the position of a Lokpal.

2. They further demand that the prime minister’s office and his council of ministers be under the purview of the Lokpal. It is true that PM and his council of ministers do fall under the purview of the Lokpal but with the exception that on matters of public order or defense the Lokpal’s jurisdiction will not hold. Hazare and his men want a blanket access to PM and his Cabinet.

3. They also want that the Lokpal be allowed to take suo moto cognizance of issues pertaining to probity for those in office, which means that there shall be no filters and that any issue purportedly about graft from secondary sources should be enough for the Lokpal to institute an inquiry.  The current proposed bill allows any notice of graft be first presented to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha who will then decide whether the case is fit to be pursued by the Lokpal. This is to avoid frivolous and baseless charges being pursued by the Lokpal. But this does not impress the civil society and they want that this be done away with.

4. They want that the civil society appoint the Lokpal and not a committee of ‘corrupt’ politicians including the Prime minister, the speaker of the house and the leader of the opposition.

2.  Anna Hazare – his crusade against Corruption , his fast & Lokpal Bill !! (via Rattan Datta’s Blog)

Whether Govt. accepts Anna Hazare as Chairman of the joint panel who would draft the bill or not ,whether public representatives have a say or not how will the Lokpal bill in any form affect the greed which propels us to adopt corrupt practices ? 

Do we have the courage to oppose people who are corrupt in the family, in the Company we work for, in the neighborhood, in the club, the association we are in? I have not seen too many do that? We attend fancy wedding receptions, cocktail and dinners hosted by our friends, neighbors and associates fully knowing , he or she cannot afford this from legitimate source of income. We do not say anything because we not want to unpopular or attract wrath of people with money power. 

I wish Anna Hazare wins and UPA Govt. is made accept Anna Hazare’s  condition and the Lokpal Bill is drafted the way people think it should be done and Bill is passed without any change. Let the civil society have the satisfaction of achieving something great. Let the Civil society believe at least a few days that corruption will be curbed by the new Bill. I promise nothing will change, because “we the people” are corrupt. The situation cannot be changed by any bill or law. We need to have change in heart. 

3 .    Bhatti joins Hazare crusade; to raise ‘Temple of Corruption’ in Delhi (via webindia 123)

  The ‘newly invented’ ‘god of corruption’ will be set up in the temple. “Those who are indicted in corruption cases, if they pay obeisance at this temple regularly for 11 days, will be acquitted of the charges against them,” Bhatti said. Bhatti appealed to artistes to design ‘corruption devta’ for installing in the temple. He said he is also persuading Padmashree Nek Chand, creator of Chandigarh’s famous rock garden, to design the ‘deity’.

‘Temple of corruption’ will be a place of worship equally sacred for those who are green horns in the field of corruption and are caught and those who are veterans with billions stashed away in Swiss banks.

“We are demanding from the government to allot us a permanent place in front of Parliament for the corruption temple,” Bhatti said.

I had on Anti-Corruption day last year written a post “International Anti-corruption Day -Way Ahead for India“. The post covered the steps required to be taken  to fight corruption by government, public and business enterprises. Some of my opinions were validated in this civil society crusade. Felt good about it. Share your opinion here- according to you what are the ways we can fight corruption in society?


Martyrs Day – Mahatma Gandhi’s Death Anniversary

Today, it is Mahatma Gandhi’s 63rd death anniversary. In the present world, that is seeing the tense faceoff between the government and public in Egypt and Tunisia, Gandhiji’s guiding principles need to be remembered. He preached non-violent protests, tolerance and peaceful coexistence of people from divergent religions, races and castes.

I think his presence is sorely missed in the world today. The leaders in government and corporate sector are motivated through greed, unethical practices, tyrannical and autocratic thinking. They obsessively cling to power by whatever means possible. The idea of sacrificial leadership for the benefit of the masses is non-existent. The agenda is to cater to one’s self interest by deluding the masses. Conflict between public is raised by playing on emotions to raise them to fight on behalf of their community, religion, race or country. Leaders do public propaganda to misguide people to self-destruction rather than guide them towards constructive and spiritual behavior.

Here I am dedicating a song to the memory of Gandhiji for having the courage to stand up for the betterment of humanity. We wish there were more leaders like him today.

Colonial Cousins “Krishna nee Begane baaroo ..” Hariharan…Krishna nee Begane Baaroo means “Oh God, please come back”- Its in English, as most of my readers are English speaking,  do listen to it.

 I think somewhere we have forgotten how to say ‘NO” to injustice, corruption, hatred and greed. Here is Mahatma Gandhi’s quote which we can learn a whole lot from:

 “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

Let us pray that God gives us a little bit of courage which Mahatma Gandhi had for fighting for what is right.

Management Lessons from Indian Freedom Struggle- Part II

On October 2, the world celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. United Nations as a tribute to his principles has declared it as an International day of Non-violence. The world definitely misses his leadership and wishes in the present environment there were more leaders of his caliber and principles.

I wrote an article to celebrate India’s Independence Day on 15 August, titled “Management Lessons from Indian Freedom Struggle”. The post had covered the leadership style of Mahatma Gandhi and the lessons which the present day corporate world can learn from it. The article got a lot of positive response and quite a few readers wanted to know more. As a mark of my respect to Gandhi’s leadership, I am writing here about some of the other lessons which we can learn.

1.      Non-violent Behavior

Mahatma Gandhi practiced the principle of non-violence.  His viewpoint was that non-violence should be practiced in thought, speech and behavior. His was against verbal abuse and physical harm. His statement was “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Wrong words spoken or harmful actions done to others definitely causes a lot of damage to self and others.

In the present world, violent speech and action is being perceived as a sign of strength. The corporate world is dealing with workplace bullying, abuse and harassment. Nearly 50% of the employees in various countries are reporting to some kind of harassment, and in 10% cases the victims need medical help. I would like people to remember Gandhi ji’s statement “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

To make this world a better place to live for all, we need to learn to refrain from all violent behavior. As he said Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.

2.      Ethical Leadership Matters

When I view Gandhi ji’s principles of fighting on grounds of non-violence in light of the world events unfolding at that time, my respect for him grows. From 1920’s to 1940’s the western world was reeling under the damages caused by World War I & II. On one side the world saw Hitler as a leader whose leadership style was based on hatred, fear and violence. On the other the world saw Gandhi who preached love, non-violence and tolerance. The difference could not be starker. I think the world leaders sympathies and support was with India after World War II, as most of them had seen enough damage.

The world after over 60 years of their deaths, regards Gandhi as a positive leader of the world, and Hitler is considered a negative leader. This shows that a leader leaves his/her footprints for a long time for others to follow.

Ethical leadership matters in the present world. Stakeholders, customers, employees and public at large expect the CXO’s to preach and practice ethical and honest behavior.  As Gandhi said – “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth”.

3.      Culture is Within You

Respect for Gandhi’s principles in the world indicates that a leader’s skin color or religion does not matter. Leadership traits and values are respected by the following generations.

In the present world we see a lot of intolerance and fights for supremacy based on race, color, religion and language. Sometimes learning another’s language and mannerisms also can cause a loss of self-esteem and significant disputes. For example, when Indian call center industry started, the call center agents were butt of all jokes. People were saying they were aping westerners to earn money. There was a cry from some Indian political parties and religious outfits that youngsters are giving up their own culture and adopting western culture.        

Gandhi ji had said – “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” One would not perceive Gandhi ji less of an Indian because he had an excellent command on English language. Learning a language or accent does not change the heart or soul of people. People should be proud that they retain their culture and identity while understanding the international community. That is the true perspective of being a global citizen and provides a competitive edge to the country as a whole.

4.      Be Committed & Humble

Gandhi ji showed the world how to be committed to principles while facing a daunting task. In his life he faced despair and heartache very many times, but even in time of great difficulty he retained his wacky sense of humor. He was once asked by a journalist what he thought of the western civilization. Gandhi ji responded –“That is a good idea”. He took the task of fighting for India’s independence seriously but not himself.  

We take ourselves very seriously and are affronted when someone criticizes our efforts. However, in the face of criticism we are disheartened and discontinue our efforts. In the corporate world we need leaders and employees who are committed to principles and strategies without being egoistic.  As Gandhi had said- “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Instead of fighting for credit, stay committed to the task at hand.

5.      Management & Execution

Mahatma Gandhi always stated- treat your enemy with respect and courtesy. Fight in respect to the issue and not the person. Therefore, a tribute to his memory cannot be completed without acknowledging the positives of the British Empire.

The British Empire, at its peak was the largest empire of the world. It controlled a quarter of land on Earth and a quarter of the world population. The most known phrase was- “The sun never sets on British Empire”, as it spanned the globe.

England was and is a small country and it could control India, a country multiple times larger in size for over two centuries. It clearly reflected the management, administration and execution capability of the British Empire.

I would say the East India Company was one of the first global multinationals which played a dominant role in history.  The company ran a global setup without telecommunication and technology facilities available to the present day managers.  There are a number of lessons which the present day managers can learn from history. British management and execution capacity was faultless.

My heartfelt respect to the man, who won the biggest battle against the mightiest empire without throwing a single stone, be it verbal or physical. A final salute to Mahatma Gandhi, the man who showed the world how to lead from the heart, with generosity of spirit, and an indomitable will.

Please join me in Gandhi ji’s prayer for peace.

Wishing you all a Happy Gandhi Jayanti and International Non-Violence Day.

Management Lessons From India’s Freedom Struggle

On the eve of India’s Independence Day on 15 August, I cherish the freedom and celebrate India’s growth towards global recognition. Going back in history, Indian freedom struggle lasted nearly a century. The last 25 years of the struggle was lead by Mahatma Gandhi on the concept of non-violence. India is one of the unique countries which gained freedom without much bloodshed.

I think there are lot of management lessons which corporate world is implementing presently which were prevalent in the freedom struggle. In this post I am exploring Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and management style, and linking it to the current management practices.

1. Walk the talk

Mahatma Gandhi preached the concept of simple living and high thinking, although he came from an affluent Indian family. He came up with various austere living standards and requested his followers to adopt them. His kept his life open to public scrutiny. People may debate regarding his personal choices but no one would raise questions on his ethics and integrity. Irrespective of the difficulty involved, he always was able to take the high moral ground and never compromised on his personal values.

In the present corporate world we respect the leaders who are able to walk the talk, demonstrate ethical and principled behavior, and lead by example.

2. Think out of the box

The strategy and tactics adopted during the Indian independence struggle were unlike any other country’s revolution. Some of the concepts were:

  • Non-violence – A war fought on the basis of principles without any bloodshed.
  • Civil disobedience- Court arrest if the British officials are threatening imprisonment for demanding your rights.
  • Non-cooperation- The message given was maintain your jobs with the British empire, however do not support it regarding its practices against Indian people.

Managements today are advocating out of the box thinking and competing strategically. The organization which implements a unique strategy generally wins the market.

3. Brand building

Mahatma Gandhi’s personal brand has lasted 60 years after his death without any investment. He created a brand of a simple moral man living life on the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence). His home spun cotton clothes, wooden shaft, leather slippers, vegetarian meals and home at the ashram all embodied his personal brand. His character and communication depicted his core values to the masses. We must acknowledge that fact that very few leaders in history have as strong a brand image as Gandhi.

The corporate world is spending huge sums on advertising to build the corporate brand. We hear Tom Peters and other management gurus talking about building the “Brand You”. The focus now is on developing a personal brand.

4. Competitor’s size doesn’t matter

The Indian freedom struggle gained ground with the idea of a few committed individuals who wished to bring about a change. They envisaged taking on the might of British Empire which had the resources, funds, weapons and management capability. The Indian leadership team acknowledged the strengths of the British Empire and devised a strategy which minimized those strengths. They built a strategy on the following:

  • Non-violence which required no weapons;
  • Asked masses to contribute for the independence and live frugally, hence survived on minimal resources;
  • Developed local leadership across all regions under Congress banner.

Using a similar strategy, Barrack Obama won the American presidential elections when he had no funds and support. Recently corporate world has witnessed small IT companies (e.g. hotmail)  developing into big names just by pioneering a unique product and leveraging the market properly.

5. Build dream teams

Indian Congress Party besides Gandhi had a number of other accomplished leaders. Namely,
C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and others. These leaders all had different personalities and ideologies, however worked for a common cause. Gandhi and Nehru complimented each other tremendously and mostly operated as two in a box. Senior leaders acted as mentors for the younger generation. The party had leaders at grass root level, and people were encouraged to develop leadership traits.

Business world is focusing on building dream teams with leadership at all levels. The Human Resource Departments are focused on concepts of two in a box, alternate leaders, chief mentors and succession planning.

6. Engage and empower people

Mahatma Gandhi in his speech on the eve of Dandi March said -“Wherever there are local leaders, their orders should be obeyed by the people. Where there are no leaders and only a handful of men have faith in the programme, they may do what they can, if they have enough self-confidence”. He encouraged common man to show leadership and commitment under the overall umbrella of Congress. He united the people by specifying the mission, vision and code of conduct of Congress. The masses were committed to the cause and in all his symbolic protests he involved people participation.

The corporate world’s biggest challenge is of disengaged employees due to actual or perceived lack of empowerment. It is becoming apparent that success or failure of the organization is increasingly dependent on a healthy organization culture which encourages employee participation.

7. Accept and encourage diversity

The British are generally blamed for implementing “divide and rule policy” in India. On the contrary, India already was already divided into various regions, religions and castes before the British rule.
Mahatma Gandhi in his struggle for independence attempted to unify the country. He encouraged the princely states to join hands, brought Hindus and Muslims on the same platform and removed caste barriers for joining the freedom moment. He supported gender equality and encouraged women to actively participate in the movement. His wife, Kasturba Gandhi played a pivotal role in getting women’s participation.

With less than 10% women in senior management positions in the corporate world, the mantra today is to bring more women on board. With globalization the concept of accepting and encouraging diversity has taken hold.

8. Don’t make it personal

In the Quit India speech in 1942, Mahatma Gandhi stated- “Then, there is the question of your attitude towards the British. I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behavior. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people”.

Deal with the issue and not the person; this is the corporate mandate today. Mahatma Gandhi pioneered this thought process. In all his communication and dealings he stood up against British Imperialism. He however, had friendly relationships with Britishers and never made a personal attack in his speeches. On the other hand, he continuously advocated decent and humane behavior even towards ones enemy. His thought process was- address the issue at hand and keep a positive attitude towards a person from the competing camp.

In nut shell, there is a lot to learn from the Indian freedom struggle for the corporate world. It had unique dimensions which are gaining hold now as corporate best practices. History is the best teacher, if we are willing to learn from other people’s successes and failures. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Wishing you all a very happy Independence Day.

The Business Enterprise Magazine published this article in its August 2011 issue.