Values: Elusive Reality

06/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Trust is the backbone of business, and ethics its limbs; both of these principles are at stake today. The faith that people have in banks and financial institutions has shaken and in such a situation, it becomes difficult for business to flourish.

Understanding and re-evaluating our way of doing business is an earnest need of our times. To re-establish faith and trust in the economic system, we need a moral and ethical revival.

The system currently lacks proper checks and balances. The Madoff scandal in New York, the catastrophe with Lehman Brothers and other investment banks, the burst of the dot-com bubble, the Enron debacle -- these are all cases in point, where an artificial hype was created by manipulating data and people were kept in the dark about what was really happening for a long time. Greed in the form of unchecked corruption that has crept even into the judicial system has dimmed the hope of people. Human values have taken a back seat. Given this backdrop, what could be the steps forward?

We have to ensure that the human values of honesty, integrity and compassion are encouraged and rewarded.

Along the same lines as a carbon credits system, there could be a points system for corporate social responsibility (CSR) too. Often CSR is undertaken simply as a showpiece rather than a solution. Proactively promoting human values can bring them to the forefront in any transaction.

Human beings usually follow ethical and moral values out of fear rather than being driven by their own conscience. Although fear of losing one's reputation is an effective force for ensuring that people do the right thing, following ethical considerations because of one's conscience is becoming a rarity.

The implementation of these human values in the corporate program cannot be simply a one-sided affair -- just a project for businesses. It has to be developed holistically by including society's four pillars: its economic establishments, its faith-based organizations, its political institutions and its social sector. We need to foster a coordinated effort among these stakeholders. If any one of these pillars collapses, the others also become disabled. Faith-based institutions can catalyze a huge transformation and engender much needed integrity in people.

Social entrepreneurship too needs to be encouraged to lessen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. As long as people are hungry and do not have access to basic amenities, one cannot expect honesty and integrity. The opportunity to grow should not be curbed in any part of the globe and charity should be geared towards growth rather than perpetuating dependency. The word dominance has to be replaced with the word cooperation.

History has shown us that when some parts of the world prosper, others often don't. For instance, in the 1600, when India and China were thriving, Europe was at a low; when Europe was on top of the world, Asia was down; when Europe and Asia were on the decline, the United States was on the rise; and while the rest of the world is still struggling to recover from the recession, Brazil, India and China seem to be forging ahead. However, we need work together to make this phenomenon, where one region prospers at the cost of another, a paradigm of the past. In today's globalized world, international borders are porous, and the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of countries and regions is obvious. The nature of today's challenges requires us to unite across the world to come up with common solutions.

On the health front, the United Nations has declared that depression will be the second biggest killer by 2020; this disease is already making its presence felt. Given the rising incidence of physical and mental illnesses and behavioral disorders in the society, merely focusing on developing a robust economy will be just like putting makeup on a corpse.

This is where faith-based organizations and their activities can play a vital role. Over-ambitiousness often boomerangs as depression, which can be countered by self-reflection or spiritual values.

When a country becomes stronger -- politically, economically and socially -- it prefers dialogue to war. Armed conflict between strong nations is a thing of the past. Today, guerrilla warfare, ethnic conflict within nations and squabbles between small nations are widespread. If every nation is empowered to become stronger, perhaps we can put an end to these conflicts.

Terrorism is another big threat that has dearly cost the economy of every nation. The cause of terrorism is the lack of wisdom. We have done very little to globalize wisdom, to encourage multi-religious education and multi-cultural activity. Even if a small part of the population in a corner of the globe thinks that only they possess the truth or only they can go to heaven, and they want to thrust their truth on the rest of humanity, the world cannot have peace. The clashes of civilizations and religious ideologies have to be addressed; unless they are, peace cannot flourish and consequently neither can prosperity.

Deep-rooted prejudices among communities have to be checked. It is ironic that even in this progressive age, racial prejudice still exists. In many places, Yoga and other spiritual practices have remained a taboo for a long time. Certain countries have even banned Yoga. Gandhian principles of truth and non-violence are talked of as outdated even in their place of origin.

Racial attacks happen not only in uneducated parts of Africa or Southeast Asia but also in developed and advanced countries such as Australia. The hooliganism experienced in the suburbs of France, or the conduct of people in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, clearly indicate we are sitting on a volcano of volatile human behavior. This needs to be nipped in the bud, or, as is said in the East: "The seeds need to be roasted so that they don't sprout." This can be achieved through our education systems by introducing multi-religious and multi-cultural education beginning in elementary schools.

An ability to work without prejudice of any sort and a readiness to look into the new paradigms are skill-sets essential for the modern era. The present generation seems to have acquired these skills by dropping the biased and conservative mindset of the past.

It is time to kick-start enlightened imaginations. Societal renewal has to be a collaborative effort of honest politicians, businessmen with integrity, religious leaders with credibility, visionary educationalists, social workers with compassion and clarity as well as people from the entertainment and sports industry.

This dream is possible to achieve when we rise above our limited mindset of my country, my religion and my people to embrace the greater perspective of my planet.