(This speech was delivered by me on 1st December 2012 at Doha Toastmasters Club)
Let me start with a question: What is common between Gen. David Petraeus, a much decorated US Army General and a former Director of CIA, Mr Christopher Kubasic, who was supposed to take over as CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Mr Rajat Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs Director?
Toastmaster of the day, fellow Toastmasters and guests, good evening!
Yes! The common thing between these three illustrious personalities i.e., one officer and two gentlemen is that they all came crashing down from the peak of their respective careers. But, more important thing to note here is that this downfall had nothing to do with their professional capabilities! It was entirely due to their admitted or proven deficits in values, morals and ethics.
But we are fortunate that for every Rajat Gupta, Patreaus and Kubasic, we have thousands of individuals who have been very successful and risen in the esteem of the people by their capabilities augmented by their belief in values, morals and ethics.
In 1930s, Chicago was virtually ruled by one underworld don by name Al Capone. He was able to escape from law mainly because of his brilliant lawyer Joseph O’Hare. This lawyer, Joseph had all the wealth, power and brilliance. Yet one day he realized that he was not setting the right kind of example for his children. Shortly thereafter, Joseph provided incriminating evidence against Al Capone which resulted in conviction of the don. But Joseph had to pay with his life for this act. He was shot down in his car shortly afterwards. But that is not the end of the story! Joseph’s son Edward O’Hare went on to become US Navy’s first Flying Ace and was also awarded ‘Medal of Honor’ in WWII. He led US Navy’s first ever night time fighter attack launched from an aircraft carrier and laid down his life. Now Chicago International Airport is named after him as O’Hare International Airport! Edward got motivated, not by his father’s brilliance as a lawyer but by his courage shown in helping to book Al Capone. This show how powerful is the influence of values, morals and ethics in our lives!
When I was in High School, I had opted to study Kannada literature and Mr Venkatachal Bhatt was our teacher for this subject. Such was his commitment level that he used to teach us even those works in Kannada which were not included in the official syllabus but were important landmarks in the history of Kannada literature. This he used to do in late evenings after the regular classes, although he had to travel quite far to reach his home. Many of us got inspired by the way he used to teach. Some of us even started experimenting and wrote small stories and poems which did get published. Whatever interest I have in literature today, is mainly due to efforts of Mr Bhatt. He retired from service in the middle of the academic year. As the school was not successful in recruiting another teacher in his place, he continued to teach even after his retirement – till the end of the academic year to ensure that his students did not suffer. This he did without accepting any remuneration or salary. Mr Venkatachal Bhatt was no doubt a good teacher but he became a great teacher to us because of his high level of commitment!
Another example I can give is of Mr PC who is presently heading the largest bank in India. I have known PC since he was a middle level executive. Though PC has an exceptional career as a banker, what really sets him apart from his peers is his passion for work and belief in values. I was not at all surprised when a leading newspaper reported recently that PC writes a cheque for expenses whenever he or his family members use the office car for personal work!
Now let us rephrase a statement made earlier. We are fortunate that for every Rajat Gupta, Patreaus and Kubasic, we have thousands of individuals like O’Hare, Venkatachal Bhatt and PC who have shown that efficiency with virtue is an unbeatable combination. They have also shown that adherence to values, morals and ethics distinguish a great individual from a good individual!
On another level, the main thing that did set apart Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi from rest of their peers is again, their adherence to values, morals and ethics.
Now let us see what we mean by values, morals and ethics. The fact is that these three virtues are inextricably tied together.
- Values are guiding principles such as honesty, integrity, commitment, compassion, modesty and courage which are regarded as desirable.
- Morals are the intrinsic beliefs developed from value systems telling us how we ‘should’ behave in any given situation. It is all about doing the right thing even when no one is watching!
- Ethics, on the other hand, are how actually we behave in the face of difficult situations that test our moral fibre.
Let me conclude with another small example. Recently my son, who is employed with an IT major, wanted to take some leave to study for his CFA exams. But the problem was that he did not have enough leave to his credit. Then he was toying with the idea of applying for ‘sick leave’ or ‘leave without pay’. At that time, I advised him to honestly explain the situation to his boss. When he did so, his boss permitted him to work from home till his exams are over!
So friends, when being truthful has its rewards even in small things like this, then imagine the rewards that wait when one treads the path of values, morals and ethics!
Over to you.