Recently, I received an email from a batch mate at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. The mail talks about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's graduation speech at Princeton. (Read more). I have nothing more to comment on Bernankeâ€™s credentials or the impact he has on the world economy following his extremely loose monitory policy. The theme of this blog is his address and the decline in the moral standards and ethics in our country.
Bernanke said, â€śI think most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe, and educate their families are deserving of greater respectâ€“and help, if necessaryâ€“than many people who are superficially more successful.â€ť
There is absolutely no dignity of labour left in the country. Recently, in my trip to London, I was pleasantly surprised to see the trains so clean. As Indians, many of us have a habit of littering wherever we go. I have two young sons who contribute to more than their normal share of litter. In a train there was a Janitor walking up and down at hourly intervals to collect trash in a plastic bag. I was amazed at the enthusiasm the person showed. Compare this with our own railways or even airports where the toilets are dirty and beyond use. There also we see janitors. Forget about the enthusiasm, they hardly do what they are required to do.
This is where, as a society, I feel we are going down the wrong path. In my many interactions with people, who are a generation or more, younger, I find wealth is the only barometer for respect. I hope I am proven wrong and suffer from sampling error.
This indicates an erosion in moral values. A large number of people tend to look down upon honest but poor people as failures. People who do not misuse the system, or do not make money on the sly are looked down upon by the rest as failures.
Scene 1 - A government official's daughterâ€™s wedding. The wedding took place in a small town in grand style. Simple visual inspection could show quantum of money spent. The guests who came to bless the couple spoke in hush hush tones how much money official has made. At the same venue, there must have been many honest officials, who understandably struggle. The tragedy is his own family doesnâ€™t respect him for his honesty and work ethics. They draw comparisons with his work colleagues who are clearly wealthier but corrupt.
Scene 2 - I recently met another friend of mine. He was disturbed to know that his sonâ€™s ambition in life is to become a political fixer in Delhi. The kid of 17 years has a real life role model as well â€“ a relative who is richer, has a bigger car and incidentally more girl friends. When we were studying, students wished to become doctors and engineers. What have we come to? Youngsters now want to become fixers so that they can make more money.
If the entire society feels that there is nothing wrong with corruption, we will pay a heavy price in the generations to come. Whenever there is decay of righteousness and growth of evil, societies tend to collapse under the weight of their own contradictions.
Under the current government, corruption has to a large extent been democratized. In fact corruption has kept pace or beaten inflation. People talk about the manifold increase in the quantum of bribes. Some may attribute it to risk premium thanks to Anna Hazare.
The collapse of work ethics combined by need to get rich quick is a deadly cocktail. Because the person has no interest; he does not get any respect. He is poorly paid and due to lack of respect, he loses his own interest in work. And to regain self esteem, he is tempted to walk down the wrong path or just wallows in self pity doing no work. Either way, no work gets done. One trip to any government office will make you understand what I mean by centres of despondency and inefficiency. Simplistic model no doubt but that is what I think is happening.
This is the big challenge facing Indian society and I think all of us together have to address this. There is no magic wand to change this. Optimists hope that elections and new leader will change everything. I hope so but am not so optimistic. As Gandhiji said, we must be the change we wish to see and patiently work towards that.
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