Friday, 6 April 2012

Wealth and Morality are not mutually exclusive

Not for nothing is Archbishop Desmond Tutu widely known as "South Africa's moral conscience". The Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 1984, Archbishop Tutu was one of the leaders of the anti apartheid struggle in South Africa. He headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the fall of apartheid which so enabled South Africa to move on from the past and not start a war of vengeance. He speaks often in defence of moral positions. 

So when he wrote a piece in the Financial Times, I sat up and read. He argues in his piece that you don't have to lead a life of austerity to be moral or spiritual. Being wealthy is not a crime (its often made out to be by those who claim to speak for the poor). "It is fine to make a living; we are meant to enjoy abundant lives. The conflict comes when we separate ethics and economic progress and when we equate the latter with happiness", he says.

There's a beautiful statement in his piece.  "Shareholder responsibility is not only to make profits. How they are made also matters." Beautifully put.

I'll leave you to read the article yourself. Its not earth shattering or a blindingly  novel idea. But I believe he has stated very well, with all his moral authority, that yes, you should strive to be wealthy, but be careful of how you become wealthy.

In early stages of a career wealth seems to be everything. That's the goal to aspire for. As you grow older, you may realise that wealth is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for happiness. You may or may not be religious, or even spiritual. But you have to be "moral" to attain a degree of happiness. Those who age, without this realisation, have grown older, but no wiser. It may appear that they have the trappings of happiness, but in reality, they do not.

The opposite is equally true. To condemn wealth and say that it is a barrier to morality, or even spirituality, is sheer bunkum. Glorification of poverty is one of the greatest sins that people can make. Unfortunately many activists do so stridently. They should listen to Archbishop Tutu.

I've often felt that the world needs moral leaders. In the ancient world, the Pope performed that function (alas often appallingly). Leaders, tainted by religion, are now too narrow to be moral world leaders. In the modern world, there are no moral leaders. The closest to having that aura would be Nelson Mandela, but he is an old man now. Archbishop Tutu is somewhat in that mould, even though much of America vehemently criticises him for his strident opposition to Israel's policies on the Palestinians. The world needs more men (and women) like them.


Shachi said...

Such a wonderful article that is. Thank you for blogging about it, coz I would never have read it otherwise.

Each one of us should have a philanthropic mind, and compassion towards those who are less privileged than us.

When you are rich though, it is very hard to be spiritual. It is very hard to part with what you have and just donate it. Not sure how many people would be able to do that. On the other hand, you don't have to be poor to be spiritual either. But as with everything else, there has to be a balance that one needs to strike for himself, always choosing to be ethical and moral about it.

venkat said...

Very inspiring post, need for now is moral leaders. Creating wealth is one thing and how we use our wealth is a place we slip in moral. Creating wealth may not be a sin but In the name of luxury building palace or some stories for a single family and looking at the slum from its balcony is definetly a sin. Someway this wealth make us greedy and greadness leads us to sin, its indirect proportion. Its very difficult to follow moral & ethics when we hold too much wealth, better way is to use wealth for right reason.

Appu said...

This poor software engineer agrees with each and every word of the article as well as the post :)
The title of the article was really nice. well thought :)

TMM said...

Finally!! Some semblence of sanity on this wealth vs. morals from someone who is a role model for most leaders. I've always had this unprintable feeling about this 99% movement (they cost the taxpayers shitload of money in AKL with thier antics and protests which was just plain vandalism). These are indeed not mutually exclusive and it is nice that you slipped in quietly somewhere that morality and religion/spiritualism can be mutually exclusive (I definitely think so) A post on the evil nexus between the two that is the bane of all troubles in today's world will be wonderful from the master wordsmith!
PS: Being very moral sitting in a Merc E350 feels nicer than sitting on a Maurti800

sriram khe said...

I kept scrolling down, and wondered why you ended the post with "frankly my dear i don't give a damn" .... hahaha :)

Your post here complements mine, as you had noted, though I had written about Arundhati Roy and her rants, er, views on capitalism.

Ramesh said...

@Shachi - Well said. Balance is the key, a in most things in life.

@Venkat - Welath does not necessarily lead to sin - it may, but it doesn't have to. There are many illustrious examples of this. Bill Gates for one.

@Zeno _ I am not so sure about the poor - in fact in the years to come, you might be a very good example of what Tutu is saying !

@Kiwi - The 99% lot were certainly airing a common feeling of being exploited, but if you asked them to precisely define what they were agitating about, they struggled. Didn't realise that even in egalitarian AKL, there is a 1% !!!

Oh yes, being religious is not a guarantee of being moral. In fact I would go to the extent of saying that the more publicly religious you are, the more immoral you probably are. More sin has been committed in the name of religion than perhaps on any other cause. But I do believe that for millions of quietly and personally religious people, their faith helps them to be moral.

Vishal said...

A great perspective, Ramesh! which can only be explained and eloquently put by a wise person like you! Wish we had more person like you in the society :)

While the article is brilliant and ideal, the situation at the ground remains different. To a large extent, happiness is being seen as directly proportional to wealth. And this wealth is making that gap between the poor and rich larger. In both the cases above, the problem is in the mindset. And mind you, corrupt are not only the politicians, corrupt are the ones who being part of the system flourish on such corrupt practices... But having said that, there are people like Tutu, Gates, ours' truly in this very society, so the change is inevitable at some stage or the other!

Appu said...

Thanks for the wishes :) Words of good people always come true :)

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - Those who chase wealth at any cost will realise as they grow older that they do not have happiness. Realisations come late in life, alas.

Sandhya Sriram said...

there are many seeming paradoxes like this in life. some impacting collectively like the subject of your post and some individually.

do you think it is more important to be satisfied or more important to be hungry. it is the hunger that drives us to do more and better things that we can be satisfied about?

Is it important to win or important to play. well every game will die a natural death if there is no instinct to win and many a times, it is the zeal to win that kills the spirit of the game itself.

Is it important to save time or let time pass and live the moment. well you have to save time to pass it.

There is a line every where. it is where you draw the line and how you overcome the temptation to look back at it.

I think i am in one of those blog rambling moods. sorry about all the nonsense :-)

Hema said...

Very good article. Thanks for blogging about it. Answers some questions that I ponder about some times.
True, balance is the key to many of these seemingly conflicting things I guess.

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Mmmm. Yes all valid questions. As always its the balance that we seek as Hema says. Easy to say; very hard to achieve.

@Hema - Yep. Very true.

Deepa said...

The subject of your post is something that I have always believed in and the seed of that thought comes from Ayn Rand. I am glad that Archbishop Tutu wrote about it. They say 'never judge an idea by its source', but sometimes (like this here), the source makes all the difference. I am reading 'India Unbound' by Gurcharan Das and its almost heart breaking how that notion of 'being rich is immoral' has set a perfectly normal, capable and rich country, about 100 years behind.

[Good to be back and had a lot of catching up to do here! :) ]

Prats said...

Brilliant article, totaly agree with the view point. Great share ;-)

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - Oh yes - Gurcharan Das writes beautifully. Nehru has a lot to answer for - his misplaced idea of socialismhas sent India back by a long way, I think. Lovely to have you back - wherever did you disappear !

@Prats - Thanks. I have a lot of admiration for Archbishop Tutu.

J said...

Nice article - this point is best made by someone with moral standing. There is however something that bothers me with this debate on whether it is okay to be rich and it may be off-point. I acknowledge that it is important to reward people for hard work and innovation and it is stupid to demonize it. However, if we feel that we have worked hard and earned our money fairly, can we take full credit for it and think that nobody has a right to resent it. I think so, but only as long as everyone has an equal opportunity to make it big. Without that, I think we have to view our financial success with some humility and pay our dues to society in a big or small way, as best we can. I think a lot of resentment builds up when the super rich seem to zero empathy with the less successful - I dont think people want free handouts but an appreciation for the fact that they worked hard but never got the right breaks.

Deepa said...

The first three months I was busy auditing a public client and then I took a vacation to get over it! :)

By the way 'Greetings from Florida' - (see the profile picture) :)

Ramesh said...

@J - You are absolutely right; the key is opportunity. Society will never be equal, but as long as there is reasonable opportunity for everybody to better himself, then all is fair. And as you say, humility is a huge virtue. The more successful you are, the more you need it.

@Deepa - Ohhh - who is this teenager in the photo ??

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