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Value and Ethics


Human Values

Human civilization is known for the values that it cherishes and practices. Across various times and places, sages, saints and seers, drawing on their experience, developed practices that placed vital importance on human values, though the names used by them differed, as their languages varied but the spirit was same. Human values are values that human beings cherish and hold in common consciously and otherwise in most of the places and times and practice them. Human values are the yield of the field called human nature. This yield has many precious grains of which tyaaga (renunciation) is the foundation of all values. Gandhiji considered a hymn from Ishopnaishad ‘Ten tyaktena bhunjithaa maa gridhah kasyaswiddhanam’ of vital significance. It means that in this world, God has created everything. So we must enjoy that (world) with tyaagabhaava (a sense of renunciation), without being consumed by greed, and act without any attachment. In other words, karma is the foundation of human life in this world. The two terms tyaaga (renunciation) and bhoga (consumption) may appear to be contradictory on the surface but they are not so. Bhoga with tyaagabhaava makes the integration complete.

Gautam Buddha renounced palatial life for seeking answers to questions for self and others. It is said that he attained enlightenment after years of dhyaana (meditation) and tapa. Then sprang a desire in him to preach and pass on the knowledge, earned by him, to others in the society. While thinking so, he realized that there was lurking some kind of ego in deep recesses of his mind that was wire persuading him to think that only he is enlightened and others are ignorant. Buddha returned to the forest to meditate all over again. After meditation, he concluded that he should go and share his knowledge with other members of the society, not out of his ego but out of his love for them and consequent compassion because all were his people. From here, satya (truth), prem (love) and karunaa (compassion) became integral values of his philosophy and life. Behind all this was his tyaaga (renunciation) of power, familial affiliations and palatial comforts. Tyaaga and sevaa (service) are foundations of satya (truth), prem (love) and karunaa (compassion) because they show commitment to the lives of others along with one’s own.

The Vedic/Upanishadic discourse speaks of values in different places of which the following are the key values: Satyam (Truth), Dharmah (Righteousness) Tapah (Austerity), Tyaagah (Renunciation), Damah (Restrain), Dayaa (Mercy), Daanam (Charity), and Shamah (Tranquility). These values have been named differently. The purpose of education in general and higher education in particular is to facilitate actualization of human potential by making its stakeholders, particularly higher educational administrators, teachers, and learners conscious about human values and professional ethics. The principal values are discussed in brief as follows:

Love & Compassion (Prem and Karunaa):Love is the all-pervading life energy. It finds its manifestation in sincere care for others, kindness, empathy and compassion and is unconditional.

True love leads to compassion. It may be seen in operation in human acts of generosity, mercy (dayaa) and charity (daana). The concept of ‘Love for all’ leads to consideration of the whole world as a family as in the concept of vasudhaiva kutumbakam.

Peace (Shanti): The scope of peace includes peace at the individual level and at the world level. For world peace, peace at the level of individual, society and nations is imperative. Marcus Aurelius stated, ‘He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.’ Mahatma Gandhi had remarked, ‘Always aim at complete harmony of thought, word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.’

  Truth is eternal and unchanging, as it deals with ultimate and unchanging reality. In the Taittariya Upanishada, the teacher, while delivering the convocation message to the disciple, says, ‘Satyam vada’ (Speak the truth). It is marked by veracity, honesty and sincerity, purity, accuracy and fairness, fearlessness and integrity. It may have many facets as subjective or relative truth that why people cling to ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’ leading to conflict at times. However, when searching for a lasting truth that withstands relativity, the values of common sense, intuition, justice, quest for knowledge, the spirit of enquiry and synthesis are nurtured and enhanced. In professional life, the simplest manifestation of truth is in sincerity that can be seen in terms of commitment to work.

Non-Violence (Ahimsa):Ahimsa means non-killing. Non-violence is a result of restraint from consciously doing any harm through one’s thoughts, speech or action to any entity, living or non- living. It requires being sensitive to the fact that there is life in all forms of existence and they are interconnected. Non-violence demands abstinence from hatred and nurturing love and compassion for all beings.

Righteousness (Dharma):Righteousness is the backbone of core human values and also of human existence. It involves conduct of life and action by practicing propriety and decorum at every stage. In simple language, it is marked by ‘right conduct’. It covers ethical guidelines, ethical behaviour and moral righteousness. Its essence is covered in the saying: Do good, see good, and be good. Indian culture revolves around the concept of Dharma which means ‘dhaarayate yasya sa dharma’ (‘what is worth doing or upholding’) in which action is guided by propriety of time (kaal), place (desh) and position or status (kula).

Renunciation or Sacrifice (Tyaaga):Renunciation has two preconditions: care as well as love for all living beings attended by absence of selfishness. Renunciation begins when selfishness ends. Renunciation is not an escape from the problems of life. Moreover, renunciation without action means a parasitic life. Also, service is born, when renunciation with action begins. Renunciation in its simplest form is seen in austerity, sense control, and selflessness.

Service (Sevaa):When love and compassion for others and willingness to sacrifice for others out of love take the form of action, it becomes service. Service is possible only when one loves others as one’s own, not as other. The value of service demands equanimity without any conditions or discrimination on the lines of caste, creed, race, region or religion.

Human values are mankind’s deepest moral aspirations and form the foundation of human culture and lives as individuals and as societies. The need is to inculcate and practice them consciously to be a good human so that s/he can realize his/her potentials as a human being.

Values are to be learned through practices. Hence, the administrators and teachers in higher education need to bear in mind that they are being watched and observed by their peers and learners in general and they (peers/learners) are learning values by observing them (seniors and peer learners). So the ambiance in and around higher educational institutions should be such as would be conducive to value education and bring qualitative change in life and work at home and workplace with professional ethics. The end of higher education is knowledge, and the end of knowledge is to know about life. The end of life is happiness, though some may think that it is a success. Success does not necessarily ensure happiness or greatness. Happiness and greatness are attained only when success is attended by values and professional ethics. Human values and professional ethics, thus, are indispensable steps in the odyssey of transformational learning and life of happiness and greatness.

Professional Ethics

Human values and professional ethics are intertwined. Values are concerned with personal conviction with the core belief or desire that guide or motivate attitudes and actions. Ethics has been described as standards of conduct that indicate how one should behave based on moral duties and virtues arising from principles about right and wrong. Professional ethics is concerned with the concept and framework of moral right or wrong as applied to a professional organisation, execution policies and behaviours. Though education in its truest sense is not a professional, for practical purpose here we would address it to be a profession so that an institutional framework of ethics in higher education may be propounded.

Human values, professional ethics, and legal framework are three main constituents those direct the desirable human behaviours and decision-making guidelines in an organisation. If legal framework alone could direct human behaviours and decision-making process, there would have been no need for values and ethics to exist in organisational reference. Being legal is minimum requirement, however, it is not sufficient. Law is base and plinth of organisational activities but we need to build a structure over it. Not becoming illegal for fear of punishment is the coarse level of human existence. It is always preferable to follow laws in spirit and not merely in words. Above the world of legality, there is the open sky of ethics and values where human operations are done to make the world more prosperous, full of equity and justice, and charged with either of aesthetic sense and happiness.

Professional ethics deal with what are desirable acts and what are undesirable acts about the profession. Numerous organisations have guidelines for corporate governance and their ethics code. Some organisations have even appointed ethics officers. Ethics training have spread across organisations throughout the globe. Ethics include among their goals: stimulating moral obligation, developing problem solving skills and tolerating or reducing ambiguity. Ethics perhaps cannot be taught (unless the receiver is established in shravan yoga) but can be learned by example. Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita: yat yat aacharati shreshthah, tat tat eva itaro janah; sa yat pramaanam kurute, lokah tat anuvartate (for whatever a worthy person does, that very thing other persons also do; whatever standard he or she sets up, in general, other persons follow the same). It means: seniors have greater roles; no one is listening what you are saying but everyone is watching what you are doing; words have less power to communicate; action has more power to communicate; and gyaanam bhaar kriyaa vinaa (knowledge of values and ethics is only dead burden if it is not implemented in practice). So, ethics can be learned or can be made to learn through modelling. Leaders set ethical examples by what they say and do. Apart from that, ethics training is also a possibility and yields a desirable result.

Values in a human being get established in early childhood but value awareness, ethical awareness and reasoning skills in favour of value-based and ethical decisions can be improved throughout life. Human values and professional ethics in a combined way influence right conduct, behaviours and decisions. The ethical decision depends upon how one feels about oneself, stages of moral development and organisational environment. Blanchard and Peal suggest that ethical behaviour is related to self-esteem. People, who feel good about themselves, have what it takes to withstand outside pressure and to do what is right rather than do what is merely expedient, popular, or lucrative.

However, for ethical practices, only individual(s) cannot be held responsible. Apart from moral development and self-esteem, organizational environment is a third factor contributing to ethical stand or practices or decisions. That is the reason there is a need to create an ethical environment in an organization. If organizational environment promotes ethical practices, individuals take more ethical decisions and vice versa. Researches indicate that more vaguely stated ethical statements contribute less towards ethical practices in organisations and clearly stated concretized ethical statements contribute more to ethical practices in organisations.

In the discussion on ethics, it may be relevant to look at how unethical practices look like. One survey in context of Indian organisations, some unethical behaviours viewed by Human Resource Managers are: hiring, training or promoting on favouritism; allowing differences in pay due to friendships; sexual harassment; gender discrimination in promotion; using discipline inconsistently; not maintaining confidentiality; gender differentiation in compensation; non-performance factors used in appraisals; arrangements with vendors leading to personal gains, and; gender discrimination on recruitment and hiring. Some guidelines based on surveys in Indian organisations suggest that: administration must be transparent; decision must be taken in public interest; administrators should leave behind their caste, community, and language in their own homes; corruption must be punished; discriminatory privileges should not be given to officials; persons at all levels must be encouraged to think and to give their advice freely, and; entire administration must be geared to tackle by itself or through other organisations the menace – poverty. Various studies in Indian context suggest that organisations can encourage moral behaviour by: communicating expectations that employees will behave ethically and define what that means; hiring at the top who set good examples; rewarding ethical behaviours and punishing unethical behaviours; teaching employee basic tools of ethical decision making, and; encouraging discussion of ethical issues.