Business Sutra |3.3| Ramayana and Mahabharata

Business Sutra |3| Business Ethics and Morals

In the first episode of the TV serial on CNBC 18, spread over three segments, Devdutt Pattanaik presented to us the most visible form of the business – the corporation : its meaning, its purpose and its action perspective.

In the second episode Devdutt Pattanaik discusses Leadership: Role of the leader, Context of the leader and Leadership in different business cycles.

The third episode relates to the Business Ethics and Morals. In the first part, a broad spectrum of business ethics and dilemmas of the leader has been covered. In the 2nd Part, a closer look at these issues has been taken up, in the perspective of relationship between owner and the organization. The present 3rd part deals the subject of The Right (Dharma) from two opposing points of view – the Ramayana way and the Mahabharata way.

Business Sutra |3.3| Ramayana and Mahabharata

The treatment of rules-based-principles-compliance (Ramayana-way) and principles-based-rules-compliance (Mahabharata-way) is fundamentally approached at very different levels in the Western world practices and in India’s mythological concepts.

The West seems to lay more emphasis on compliance as the goal of ethical and moral conduct, whereas Indian mythology approaches it as way of life. I have chosen three representative articles that effectively present the current Western thinking on the subject:

The shift from rules-based to principles-based companies : Lynda Gratton has been studying the behavior of corporations for more than three decades. But what she has observed in the past few years has surprised even her. Under the influence of megatrends such as globalization, hyper-connectivity and worldwide financial instability, the professor of management practice at the London Business School has witnessed the erosion of rules-based organizational models and the rise of companies driven by principles.

Principles-Based Regulation and Compliance: A Framework for Sustainable Integrity – To remain competitive and even to survive in this complex and uncertain environment, pioneer thinking and innovation must go beyond product lines and services. They must encompass active evolution and management of the corporate social value proposition. They must engage the engineering and design of compliance systems that grow organically. Essentially, they also must deliver incentives for cultures to take root that are defined by their integrity. In a dynamic risk environment, this all forges a foundation of adaptability and enterprise…. Increasingly, non-market aspects of business – social justice, environmental matters, income equality and the like – have become key components for long-term business success. At the same time, these considerations make business increasingly relational rather than purely transactional.

A 21st century model based on principles, not rules – The need for principles-based governance is fuelled by the pervasive public scrutiny of organisations, a trend that will only increase with advances in social media and technology. There are precious few remaining “dark corners” in which any organisation can operate. The manner in which government acts and business is transacted has been, and will be, transformed. Every organisation’s approach to governance, increasingly, will determine the organisation’s value.

So we quickly take up what Devdutt Pattanaik has to say in Segment 3 of the episode 3 – Ramayana and Mahabharat, as the Indian Mythology’s point of view.

We have discussed Dharma, we have discussed Dharma Sankat. Both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana talk of many different instances of what is the road to Dharma – the principle and what constitutes Dharma Sankat. We have a very interesting question from Ajay Piramal referring to both these great books and what he draws from that.

What are the learnings that we can get to apply in the modern world from the Mahabharata and also from the Ramayana. Sometimes on first reading it looks that there are several contradictions in to what is said in Mahabharat and what is said in Ramayana. Can you just explain that to us?

Ramayana and Mahabharat are both considered History (Itihaas). Itihaas is conventionally translated as history but what it actually means it is a tense agnostic term – which means so it was, so it is and so it will be. That means it is timeless. Second is the context of Ramayana and Mahabharata. They exist in two different contexts. So they cannot be seen as equals. That is the mistake the Western mind forces us to look at them that way.

West is obsessed with standardization, but our way is according to tastes – one is that of Dwapar Yug and the other is that of Treta Yug. Treta is the earlier, innocent, phase of the organization whereas Dwapar is the later, a little darker, phase in the life of the organization, which is slightly more corrupt.

Let us revisit the principal of Dharma again:

Now let’s do a simple 2 by 2 matrix to understand the Ramayana – Mahabharata:

You have rules on one side – the rules are followed or the rules are not followed. We have the principle (Dharma) on the other side – Principles are upheld or are not upheld.  Now look at the Ramayana – in Rama, Dharma is upheld and rules are upheld at the same time. Everything is about others, even, almost always,s at the cost of oneself. So it is misery in forest and misery in case of palace. His opposite is the great alpha male which somehow people seem to like today. That tells you about the times. He is Ravana. No Dharma no rules; no rules no Dharma. Your wife is my wife.  and I’m an animal. Even my son dies I will not let go of my little toy, my brothers die I will not let go of my little toy. That is Ravana.

Now look at the same thing – rules are broken, bent. Krishna always keeps bending the rules, breaking the rules but the principle is intact. It is always for the other. Now let us look at the most favorite character Duryodhana. He never breaks the rule but he’s constantly violating the principle – he is holding the letter of the law never the spirit of the law. Left side is the spirit, right side is the letter. The Top Left is the belief, whereas Bottom Right is the behavior.  He is Pretender.

Where does Yudhisthira fit in all of this?

Yudhisthira is someone struggling to be Rama, he moves from Ravana square to Rama square – this is the journey of Yudhisthira, with the help of Krishna. His honesty is about rules, not realizing it is all about rules as well as about principles. Mahabharat is the story of focus on the principle. When a woman is being disrobed, everybody discussing legal matters- is it okay or not okay to disrobe her. Bhishma and Drona watching a woman being disrobed and they are supposed to be very educated people and they are not doing anything this in the matter.

That brings me to a very interesting issue. You said that the Ramayana comes from an older age of more innocence whereas the Mahahabharat comes from a darker, newer, age.

Mahabharat represents a more matured organization, whereas Ramayana represents a very early phase organization, which has just tasted success. Everything is right – market is right. The principles have just been created. So it’s exciting and new, people are not smart enough to subvert it yet.

In the case of a mature organization, people have started forgetting the principles, now it is a slightly more rule focused organization.

The principles have been forgotten, rules have become more important. It has become bureaucratic. For a bureaucrat, letter of the law matters, not the spirit of law. Like any bureaucracy all the rules upheld but people still don’t have food. So the principle is forgotten the woman is disrobed but nobody is arrested.

People want Ram. So, the rules are created. But rules do not make Ram.

In our next session, we will take up the 4th episode – The Conflicts – in this Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra.

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.

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Business Sutra |3.2| Relationship between Owner & Organization

Business Sutra |3| Business Ethics and Morals

In the first episode of the TV serial on CNBC 18, spread over three segments, Devdutt Pattanaik presented to us the most visible form of the business – the corporation : its meaning, its purpose and its action perspective.

In the second episode Devdutt Pattanaik discusses Leadership: Role of the leader, Context of the leader and Leadership in different business cycles.

The third episode relates to the Business Ethics and Morals. In the first part, a broad spectrum of business ethics and dilemmas of the leader has been covered. In the present, 2nd Part, a closer look at these issues has been taken up, in the perspective of relationship between owner and the organization.

Business Sutra |3.2| Relationship between Owner & Organization

Generally, business ownership can be classified as proprietorship, partnership or a limited liability company. The form, nature and complexity of working of the business have evolved ever since man learnt the barter system. The morality and ethics of a business organization and its owners also evolved in tandem. Then, as the form the State also started evolving, formal and informal legislations and regulations that governed the moral and ethical behavior of the business also entered the co-existing cycle of evolution.

Over the 19th century, scale and nature of the business started tilting more towards the large corporation with (legal) concept of limited liability. That, apparently, put the ownership and the management at an arm’s length and did get formalized under the law. However, that distance also brought the morality and ethics of both, the owners and management, severally and collectively, under my public glare. Like the excesses of East India Company, which prompted London to step in, the behaviour of Gilded Age (end of 19th century period) tycoons spurred new legislation to help modulate America being free-market economy. Today’s entrepreneurs operate in a drastically different world – one that is not only more global, but vastly more competitive, inclusive, regulated…[1]

As the more and more public debate took up the subject of corporation’s moral and ethical behaviour, and the associated role of owner as well as that of the management, more and more literature came to be published w.r.t. the moral ethics of the corporation’s owners – the shareholders – that of its management. However, there is not much of documented literature on internet in so far as moral and ethical relationship of a proprietor partnership form of ownership with the business organization that they operate.

It would be pertinent to remember here that we have not included the subject of Corporate Governance in our present discussion. Of course, that area also has evolved well in last few decades. But it views the subject of morality in ethics more from what ought to be THE corporate governance. We would like to look at the subject more from the point of view of an individual as what he or she perceives as his/her moral role as an owner of the business. I have selected two representative views, representing different points of view here:

Measuring Small Business Owners’ Differences In Moral Thought: Idealism Versus Relativism is a research study to measure small business owners’ differences in moral thought based on idealism and relativism. This is measured by determining the ethical ideological classification of individuals based on Forsyth’s ethical taxonomy. The research followed a quantitative analysis and an online survey questionnaire was used to collect the data from Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) owners in South Africa. The results found that the majority of SME owners fall in the situationist and absolutist category of Forsyth’s ethical taxonomy.

On the other hand, K.P. Kaiser in his post, Personal Morality vs Business Morality  looks at the more fundamental need of such business and their entrepreneur /owners.  Here is his question: What makes you think you know what’s better than an entire world full of people choosing where to spend their dollars?…. We have representative governments to impose moral order on the market. As a business person, you need to have a second set of morals. Your business morality should look to profit maximization above all else. Because the market doesn’t tell you the ways people imagine a fair world should work. The market tells you the way the world actually works. The beauty of the market is its amoral nature. We aren’t accountable to other people’s ideas of what we should be spending our money on.

Kaiser seems to be more concerned about the stakes – the livelihood – of the individual entrepreneur.

So we quickly take up what Devdutt Pattanaik has to say in Segment 2 of the episode 3 – Relationship between owner and the organization, from the Indian Mythology’s point of view.

The one predominant conflict that exists, at least in the context of business, is the relationship between the owner and the organization, management and ownership. I can find different ways of putting it, but that is the one key area of conflict. It is the one area that all the Western governance rules seem to actually try and control or mitigate. Yet, in India it is the biggest issue that we face when we talk about corporate governance, when we talk about organizational behavior or leadership traits, the whole relationship between the owner and the organization.

In the Western context, the organization is independent of the leader, while in the Indian context the organization is a manifestation of the leader. So Raja and Rajya are integral to each other. This is one fundamental thing.

Now let’s look at it in the form of a story in the Mahabharata, about this very honest person called Yudhisthira. Then we talk about a gambling episode. He gambled his kingdom. I have heard people talking about this episode, but not asking a very fundamental question – was it his?  It was Draupadi who asked the question – can he gamble the kingdom? What he and everybody is assuming that she’s asking about her. But she’s actually asking about everything. She says, on what basis has he gambled the kingdom away? Is the kingdom the King’s property?

Is it?

No.

Why does the kingdom exist, that is the fundamental question? Does it exist to mitigate my fear? Then it’s Adharma. If it is to mitigate my people’s fear, it’s Dharma. How are you mitigating fear – by gambling it away?

That is one extreme example. But if you were to look at modern-day business, the owner, or the promoter is the person who vests the most, invests the most in that business, both from a money point of view and from emotion, energy, risk everything. Why then does he not get, in some sense, stake for the rest of his life and treat this like his kingdom?

In India the relationship of the king and the kingdom was that between a cowherd and a cow.  If you see wealth as milk, where does the milk come from? It comes from a cow. What is good milk? Rich in bottom line? or Utterly Buttlerly Milk? The cow that gives that milk is a good cow. Now that cow’s milk belongs to the cowherd or does it belong to the cow?

It belongs to the cow.

There is a nice relationship between the cow and the cowherd. The cowherd takes care of the cow, and in exchange takes a portion of the milk. The king as the cowherd is the keeper of the cow, his kingdom. When a king gives a cow to another man, what has he done? He has given that person a lifetime of food and fuel with that milk and dung. This effectively means that you have given him survival; you have allowed him to live.

In other words, giving away a cow or Godaan, is job creation. I have created a job so that he can sustain himself forever. So the more cows I give, I basically create employment, so that more people can live. Why do they need to live? Otherwise they would be at the mercy of the elements. The great king distributes many cows. But does he own the cow? That relationship is one of trusteeship. He is the trustee of the cow.

This is very simple to understand when there is one king in one cow. If you were to expand it in the context of an organization, let us assume the king is the promoter or the entrepreneur, the founder. But thereafter, the king alone is not able to take care of the cows. The King needs the help of other people. and therefore the right on the milk he gets distributed amongst those other people who also help in taking care of the cow. Has it to be proportional? Should it be distributed disproportionately because it is the king actually who began the entire process of taking care of the cow, and  the others came on later? This is the question that constantly gets asked in India – can the promoter undertake actions that benefit himself as the shareholder, and by the way, benefit other shareholders as well ?Because they benefit him, the shareholder, should that be treated as fair or that is not fair? Should all his actions be taken from the other shareholders point of view?

The first thing is – what is fair is subjective. Fairness is a subjective concept. Second, it offered equality. In India you are equal at a soul level. So the soul (Atma) is equal, but the flesh is not.. There are inequalities based on our intellectual make-up, our emotional make-up and our material make-up.

So what you’re saying, then, is that the founder, the promoter, the entrepreneur rightfully deserves more based on the risks and the effort that he has undertaken.

The word right is not an Indian concept.  It is duty in Indian concept. Our entire culture is based on the concept of duty. Duties are for the other, right is for the self. So when you ‘this is my right’, you have in a way provoked the animal instinct of territoriality. It is mine. For what? So we’re celebrating the territoriality of our being. Which means we are surviving the animal which is celebrating the animal instinct – the imagination and amplification of fear.

Now the question is no law can say how much is fair. That is for you to figure it out. It is your duty to work out how much are you giving to people. Remember it goes to inner space, inner landscape.  No rule can tell me that. You should know that if you give me ten percent it is fair and if you give it twelve percent it is unfair. So the king has to decide. And that’s why the Kings were worshipped. Once upon a time they were put on a pedestal and the Abhishek – coronation, ablution – rituals were performed.

And yet they routinely gambled away their kingdoms or they lost their kingdoms in war which was the desire to expand their kingdoms. So if the relationship between the king and the kingdom was one of trust and trusteeship, we don’t have that many examples of Kings that actually upheld that principle.

This is because you see we are talking about the struggle to be perfect – the struggle to be human not even perfect, the struggle to step out of an animal desire, to dominate our animal desire to be territorial. 99% of our being is animal the struggle is to make 99 into 98. You never overcome your animal. If at you can do it, then you will be a living of god.

Can we make 99 into 98? That’s the Indian – introspective- method. Rules will domesticate animals. It will not fix your animal.

The episode seems to end, rather abruptly. In a way, that is because the 3rd part follows immediately and continues the link. However, if we look at the end as a poser to the questionCan we make 99 into 98?- , it provides us the food to ponder over our role of the owner and our relationship with organization that we run.

The laws of Corporate Governance are the rules that may domesticate the animal within us. But only we, with our own inner strength of our moral and ethical values, can really undertake the task of making 99 % of our animal-self into 98% animal. Be that in the capacity of proprietor or partner or the shareholder, or even that of the management.

In our next session, we will take up the further extension of the topic – Ramayana vs. Mahabharat – the two differing points of views of the Core Principles – Dharm – in the 3rd segment of the Third Episode of Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra.

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.

[1] SuperEconomies –  Raghav Bahl

Business Sutra |3.1| Ethical and Moral Dilemmas

Business Sutra |3| Business Ethics and Morals

In the first episode of the TV serial on CNBC 18, spread over three segments, Devdutt Pattanaik presented to us the most visible form of the business – the corporation : its meaning, its purpose and its action perspective.

In the second episode Devdutt Pattanaik discusses Leadership: Role of the leader, Context of the leader and Leadership in different business cycles.

The third episode relates to the ethical and moral dilemmas of the leader, and hence in turns that of the organization. The ethics and morality are the human concepts. Animals and plants belong to Prakriti or nature, where no one has choices. Everyone is fettered to their nature. Purusha or humans have the unique ability to make choices and hence reject what is ‘in their nature’ – the idea of dharma comes from this space, the core ethical and moral values of the human being. The concept is beautifully illustrated in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Dharma is a principle, not a rule, which is why in Ramayana rules are upheld and in Mahabharata rules are broken. Beneath the actions of Ram and Krishna is dharma – which may result in rule making or rule breaking, depending on the context.

Business Sutra |3.1| Ethical and Moral Dilemmas

Let us begin with first  things first and take a glance at what do values, ethics and morality mean- in the western management literature.

Bahaudin Mujtaba presents Understanding ethics and morality in business . He states that values are professed statements of one’s beliefs, ethics is delivering on one’s professed values and morals are actions of good conduct as judged by the society that enhance the welfare of human beings. ..With an understanding of values, ethics and morals while using ethical principles, a business owner or leader can form a framework for effective decision-making with formalized strategies. The willingness to add ethical principles to the decision-making structure indicates a desire to promote fairness, as well as prevent potential ethical problems from occurring.

Surbhi S has clearly presented the Difference Between Morals and Ethics . The word Morals is derived from a Greek word “Mos” which means custom. On the other hand, if we talk about Ethics, it is also derived from a Greek word “Ethikos” which means character. Put simply, morals are the customs established by group of individuals whereas ethics defines the character of an individual.

Basis for comparison Morals Ethics
Meaning Morals are the beliefs of the individual or group as to what is right or wrong. Ethics are the guiding principles which help the individual or group to decide what is good or bad.
What is it? General principles set by group Response to a specific situation
Root word Mos which means custom Ethikos which means character
Governed By Social and cultural norms Individual or Legal and Professional norms
Deals with Principles of right and wrong Right and wrong conduct
Applicability in Business No Yes
Consistency Morals may differ from society to society and culture to culture. Ethics are generally uniform.
Expression Morals are expressed in the form of general rules and statements. Ethics are abstract.
Freedom to think and choose No Yes

Business Ethics is a brief, structured, treatise on the subject.

Conventional Approach to Business Ethics  is a presentation prepared on the 7th Chapter – Business Ethics Fundamentals – from the book Business and Society. We get a quick-glance view of serval fundamentals of the subject.

12 Ethical Principles for Business Executives : Ethical values, when translated into active language, establishing standards or rules that describe the kind of behavior an ethical person should and should not engage in, are ethical principles. The following list of principles incorporates the characteristics and values that most people associate with ethical behavior. 

  • HONESTY – honest and truthful in all their dealings.
  • INTEGRITY – personal integrity and the courage of their convictions by doing what they think is right even when there is great pressure to do otherwise.
  • PROMISE-KEEPING & TRUSTWORTHINESS – worthy of trust.
  • LOYALTY – worthy of trust, demonstrate fidelity and loyalty to persons and institutions by friendship in adversity, support and devotion to duty.
  • FAIRNESS – fair and just in all dealings.
  • CONCERN FOR OTHERS – caring, compassionate, benevolent and kind.
  • RESPECT FOR OTHERS – respect for the human dignity, autonomy, privacy, rights, and interests of all those who have a stake in their decisions.
  • LAW ABIDING – abide by laws, rules and regulations relating to their business activities.
  • COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE – pursue excellence in performing their duties, are well informed and prepared, and constantly endeavor to increase their proficiency in all areas of responsibility.
  • LEADERSHIP – conscious of the responsibilities and opportunities of their position of leadership and seek to be positive ethical role models.
  • REPUTATION AND MORALE – protect and build the company’s good reputation and the morale of its employees.
  • ACCOUNTABILITY – acknowledge and accept personal accountability for the ethical quality of their decisions and omissions to themselves, their colleagues, their companies, and their communities.

The Seven-Step Path to Better Decisions : We make thousands of decisions daily.  Most do not justify extended forethought but when confronted by major decisions with no clear answers it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.  This seven-step guide to making good decisions is an excerpt from the book Making Ethical Decisions .

  • Stop and Think – One of the most important steps to better decisions is the oldest advice in the word: think ahead.
  • Clarify Goals – clarify your short- and long-term aims.
  • Determine Facts – You can’t make good decisions if you don’t know the facts.
  • Develop Options – make a list of options, a set of actions you can take to accomplish your goals.
  • Consider Consequences – Two techniques help reveal the potential consequences: “Pillar-ize” your options.  Filter your choices through each of the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship, and, “Identify the stakeholders” to determine how the decision is likely to affect them.
  • Choose – make your decision.
  • Monitor and Modify – re-assess the situation and make new decisions, if the outcomes do not follow the plan.

Having covered some details of the fundamentals of Ethics and Morals- as perceived by the West, we move on to what the present management literature has to state on the subject.

In a well presented article – How did Peter Drucker see Corporate Responsibility? –   in HBR, Frances Hesselbein notes that, according to Peter Drucker, “Leaders in every single institution and in every single sector … have two responsibilities. They are responsible and accountable for the performance of their institutions, and that requires them and their institutions to be concentrated, focused, limited. They are responsible also, however, for the community as a whole.”…Peter Drucker strived to make business leaders see the community as the responsibility of the corporation. He called on leaders to embody “the Spirit of Performance” by exhibiting high levels of integrity in their moral and ethical conduct; focusing on results; building on strengths; and leading beyond borders to meet the requirements of stakeholders, ultimately serving the common good.

In ‘What is Business Ethics?’, Peter Drucker  categorically states that the traditional Western moralist would probably treat Business Ethics as oxymoron. However, all the authorities of Western tradition are, however, in complete agreement on one point: There is only one ethics, one set of rules of morality, one code, that of individual behavior in which the same rules apply to everyone alike. They would accept the difference between what is ethically right or not would be grounded on social or cultural context. He then goes onto detail the evolution of term Business Ethics over 18th Century till now.

The individual ethical thinking and behavior in an organization has to be translated into the organizational level integrity.

Lynn S. Paine looks at the role of the organization in shaping the individual’s ethics in an HBR article, Managing for Organizational integrity.

We look at (only) some of the videos:

DuPont Sustainable Solutions  has compiled Workplace Ethics Scenarios that show, in the lighter style, the “wrong way” and the “right way” of handling 17 common ethics issues at the workplace.

Creating ethical cultures in business: Brooke Deterline at TEDxPresidio –

As Corporate Director for the Heroic Imagination Project (HIP), Brooke Deterline helps boards, executives, and teams at all levels develop the skills to act with courage and ingenuity in the face of challenging situations. This fosters leadership credibility and candor, builds trust, engagement and reduces risk.

Legal vs. Ethical Liability: A Crisis of Leadership and Culture | Mel Fugate | TEDxSMU

Professor Fugate argues that leaders at all levels and across industries need to focus on ethical liability above and beyond legal liabilities for themselves and their organizations. Ethical liability tests the true character of a leader and determines the character and quality of an organization’s culture. He illustrates this point in the context of higher education, where he contends a lack of accountability has led to a crisis of leadership and culture. Fugate uses scandals in college sports as common examples of a pervasive and larger problem of university leadership (at all levels) that fails to meet its ethical liabilities. He outlines a number of potential causes for the patterns of unethical behavior in higher education and also provides a few suggestions on how to overcome the challenges of this crisis.

We are now geared up to listen to what Devdutt Pattanaik has to say, in Segment 1 of the episode 3 – Dharma and Dharma Sankat.

Humans are the only creatures on earth that can choose to overturn the law of the jungle to outgrow the beasts within us. Firing this eternal struggle is our ability to imagine, imagine a better place.

But the problem with imagination is also that it amplifies our fears. I can think of the worst situations. I can imagine problems which do not exist. Even in times of abundance I can think of drought and go into a depression. So it is a tragedy of imagination, while I can imagine good things I can also imagine horrible things. It amplifies joy, it amplifies fear too. The most tragic and interesting thing about imagination is suddenly we ask ourselves and because you can imagine and because are aware we can die, we start asking the question what’s the point of it all. That is where everything starts. That is the home. That is the source of our solutions and our problems.

How is it connected to Dharma?

I can imagine not being afraid. If you look at all the gods, they have their hand sticking out and what they are saying is ‘do not be afraid’. This is the Fearlessness Pose (Abhaya Mudra). The fact is any deity, anyone, is holding the hand out. That is what a leader is supposed to do.

Just visualize a simple number chart. There is a positive axis and there is a negative axis. Now imagine the number zero as what is call in Sanskrit as Matsya Nyay, A Law of the Jungle. The big fish can eat the small fish in the sea.

This means I am allowed to be territorial. I can be dominating because I want to survive. That is an animal instinct. If I can outgrow this animal instinct of survival, then I start thinking about others. I empathize because I can imagine your fear, and because I can imagine your fear I can empathize with you. If I can walk towards empathy that is outgrowing the beast, But if I allow the fear to amplify my fear then in my fear I will say that I have to stay alive and I have to thrive and others don’t matter. Nobody else matters, but me. Then I start exploiting people. I will tame other people. I will dominate. I’ll become worse than an animal. Animals don’t exploit, humans do. Animals are not cruel, humans are. So exploitation comes or the empathy comes from the human imagination. Both these, the exploitation and empathy come from the same space of the human ability to imagine and be creative. So both are possible. If I move more towards positive scale, then this is Dharma. It is a work-in-progress.  It is not an endpoint, it’s not destination, it’s a process. If I move in the opposite direction, overwhelmed by fear, it is Adharma. The choice is ours and every choice has consequences, if not in this life, then in the next life.

What is the Dharma Sankat (Ethical or Moral Dilemma)?

Dharma Sankat is the ability to take this decision, What is life all about?  Every moment we have to take decisions. At a moment of time what do I decide? What decision do I take? Let me give you an example through a story.  Once upon a time there was an eagle. The eagle was chasing a dove and the dove came to a king and told the king: save me. The king said I will save you and the Eagle said what will I eat now. So the eagle ate another dove. That is cruel. King said do not eat dove, eat rat. So the Eagle said, that’s cruel why should a rat die to save the dove. Finally the king said because I say so. The Eagle then said you are foolish. How long can you feed me? Sooner or later you will die and I’ll have to eat the Dove. So you are just delaying its death. This is Dharma Sankat.

In nature nobody would have come to the rescue of the dove. Now the King thinks he is very noble in saving the Dove. King is imagining that by saving the dove I am being a nice man, but in effect he is cruel to the eagle. You decided that the eagle is bad, the dove needs saving. Now look what is happening – the Dove is calling the king a kind king and the eagle is calling the king a cruel King. Who is right?

What should the king do?

There is no prescription.

How do you fit this in a business or corporate context? What are the more common Dharma Sankat situations that business leaders face and how are they supposed to overcome them?

There is a recession. Company has to cut costs. I have two ways of cutting cost: reduce salaries of the top management or give pink slips to the bottom of the pyramid. Which way should I go?

The former sounds less cruel. But, to those people it is as cruel.

That would mean that the top management which is running your organization may leave and the company can collapse and the shareholders will withdraw money.

What do you do?

That IS Dharma Sankat. That is why you need a leader. If there was a prescription out there then why do you need a leader? You have to ask yourself – if I have to evolve, I have to ask myself: why do I take the decision? Where from comes a decision that I am taking? Am I taking a decision because I’m afraid? Am I doing it to protect myself? Am I doing to protect my self-image? Am I doing to protect my business, which is actually an extension of my self-image? Or, am I doing it for the good of the people? More often than not it is never for the good of the people.

We have, thus, seen that West and Hindu points of view broadly converge on the basics of Dharma – the Ethics and the Morality. They also do take cognizance of the reality that ethics or morality is not the absolute – they manifest in light of the then socio-economic-cultural milieu in which the human being lives.

When we look at the literature on the values that shape the ethics and morals, we do find a subtle difference in the approaches of the West and the East. For the present, that is beyond the scope of our discussion. However, both ideologies do converge and agree that it is the value system that drives the (ethical and moral) behavior.

In our next session, we will take up the logical extension of the topic – Relationship between the owner and the organization – in the second segment of the Third Episode of Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.