Chronicles of a search: What's moral?

I am lately in the question of morality. I almost know that it doesn't matter. History tells us clearly that the sense of morality is historical (what was right in one age, was wrong in another) and mostly relative (based on the person's station in society and context). Yet, a sense of morality is the bedrock on which our certainties about life stands: If there is no right or wrong, it is almost impossible to make the choices one has to make all day, everyday.

My problem, therefore, is not that moral sense is pointless, but the unsettling question that I have the wrong sense of morals. I have always maintained a level of integrity at work, and a level of transparency in personal life. For example, I tried to be dutiful and consistent, respectful towards others, democratic in disposition and never greedy or envious. In personal life, I believed that the transparency of emotions will keep me honest: Even when I am making a mistake and don't know it, being open about what I am doing and even what I am thinking will give me the bearings to maintain my integrity.

But, lately, particularly after taking on the leadership role, I have realised that some of the things I held as important may be counter-productive. The transparency of emotion is definitely one of those: This makes me vulnerable and open to manipulation. Duties and responsibilities also become fuzzy once one has entered the commercial domain, and serve financial interests. The historical nature of morality pops up here: In another time, the financial interests of the investors would have been one of the many interests one served, not the only one; also, the current speculative nature of investments mean that there is no expectation of commitment from the investors, whereas everyone else is expected to commit to their interests. Never harm another person - if this was taken as one of the few absolute standards to live by, it is easy to lose sight of even that, as one can both underplay the nature of harm (some people lost money but no one died!) or overplay the guilt (ruined!) depending on the vantage point.

Even bigger issue is the one which is central to my disposition: Decency! I picked this up from the 18th century English moralists  (Joseph Addision, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and perhaps David Hume) that one must be modest and moderate, and decency should be the key to living life. But in the twentyfirst century start-up world that I live in, decency is weakness. This is again a question of context: If one is in the environ where everyone is bragging and ruthlessness is celebrated, decency, which is seen as pretension in the first place, is seen as the lack of power. 

But instead of complaining about the environment, I see in such challenges a question of my own morality. Is it that I unknowingly embraced the guilt-driven Judeo-Christian morality, where human condition is sinful? I was born a Hindu after all and while life was about paying one's debt, it was not about sin. There are good deeds and bad deeds, surely, but these things are defined by selfish ends (going to heaven, going to hell) rather than the imperative to avoid sinning. And, indeed, within the pagan universe, one can offset intentional bad deeds with some prescribed good deeds. While I struggle to reconcile the demands of my role, I am often confronted with this different approaches to morality. Nietzsche called these Slave and Master moralities, and would have pointed out most of the principles I follow not as a manifestation of moral sense but of weakness: I am humble because I have nothing to be proud of!

This also leads me to think that in the world of business, this fits in very well. The bosses are supposed to follow the Master morality - and we know they often do! The workers, on the other hand, are to live their lives by the slave morality - a set of do's and don'ts based on the imperatives of productivity. So, investors would love a risk-taking and flamboyant boss, but would rather have disciplined and passionate workers.

So, my final question today: Is it right to have two standards of morality? Is my original mistake that everyone seems to have same potential and same desires and therefore, should be treated equally? Isn't the hierarchial nature of the organisation and people's love for titles mean that everyone endorses a differential moral sense, just as they would accept differential pay and rewards as normal? My experiments to create a different type of organisation has gone nowhere so far: Everyone pays lip service to the need for newness, but in the end, want to settle for one corporate model or another. In fact, my quest for newness is seen as outdated and weak, rather than the courage to follow my own path. And, perhaps it is - may be I have been reading the wrong books and discarding the shallow materialism little too soon. But I am still searching for an appropriate answer that I can comfortably live with.

 

 

 

 


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