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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Lessons in Moral Science

Back in my primary school days we had a subject called “Moral Science”. It was about ethics, good and bad behaviour, morals, values and the like. I do not recall it having anything religious about it.

I remember one particular year – I think I was about eight or nine then – when each chapter of the rather thin textbook was about a particular virtue. Or vice. For some reason, I found this very fascinating and loved that year’s “Moral Science” lessons.

The approach followed in the textbook was very simple. Each chapter discussed a particular virtue or vice. It would be about 3 or 4 pages, it would start with a brief discussion of the virtue or vice and then come up with an anecdote from history (I thought then that they were all real-life stories but now I have my doubts) to illustrate that virtue or vice. That was it. Short and sweet ! It was written in simple language and, if you were interested, really made you think.

I remember some of the virtues discussed – Truth, Honesty, Patience, Righteousness, Respect, Perseverance, Humility, Sharing. Among the stories extolling these virtues I remember the one about Sir Isaac Newton and his manuscripts being burnt when his dog upset a candle. (That one, true or not, made a major impression on me). And then there was one about Robert Bruce and the spider.

Then there were the vices. I don’t know why but I think I found these chapters even more interesting. Pride (as in arrogance), Selfishness, Anger, Greed, Jealousy, Cheating and some others. There were the usual lines like “Pride comes before a fall”.

All nice stuff to read. And, at that impressionable age of nine, it made quite an impression on me.

I may have forgotten many of the stories but I have never forgotten these lessons about virtues and vices. They have been fundamental to my character-building and even today at least some aspects of my character can be attributed to those lessons learnt all those many years ago.

As with many things in life, I did find application far more difficult than the theory. The theory is that one should be honest, one should not lie, one should be unselfish – but in practice, in day-to-day life, confronted with daily situations, it was often a battle between doing what I had learnt in school and doing what is quite “normal” in “the real world”, even if in contradiction with my textbook.

I finally decided that the only way was to go with my conscience. And, with the strong influence that these lessons had had on me, my conscience was very conscious and alert. It would prick me everytime I deviated from my learnings. And I will admit that I sometimes did – never particularly comfortable, but I did.

But more often than not, I did not. Like I said, I just went with my conscience most of the time.

This often put me at odds with the more “practical” people of this world. Maybe it is also one of the main reasons I am not particularly comfortable with socializing in today’s materialistic world. I have been called all sorts of things - “na├»ve”, “mad”, “weird’, “saala Gandhi bana phirta hai ! (who does he think he is, Gandhi ?) ”, “you think you are some saint or something ?” and lots of other, not particularly charitable, stuff.

Fair enough. Each person lives his or her life on some principles and mine were set for me by that textbook at the age of nine. Like I said, I do deviate from them now and then but it is a conscious decision, depending on the exigencies of a situation, and made with full knowledge of the baseline I am deviating from. That is the concession I make to the needs of “practicality” that the environment I live in demands of me.

Over the years I have found myself sometimes trying to relate these virtues and vices to events happening around me. And, in the world at large. To find a reference. To create my own set of real-life stories, if you will.

This has also helped me to answer one of the questions I used to ask myself a lot over the years. Assuming these virtues and vices are of varying degrees of importance, which of these virtues are more important than others ? Which of these vices are more evil or destructive than others ?”

I agree that it is not all that clear-cut. But surely there are degrees.

While the jury may still be out there on the “virtues” discussion I am increasingly convinced that I have the answer to the “vices” debate. This is not to condone any of them but one of them stands out in my mind, way ahead of the others. In fact I have been of this opinion for many years now but I have just allowed it to be out there - to be tested with more empirical evidence. As every day passes and I observe events, I can only say that my conviction gets stronger by the day.

I will not disclose my views yet. I will probably do this in a subsequent post while discussing this vice. It deserves a complete post in itself. (Hint : in my opinion, this vice is the “root cause” of unhappiness in this world).

Assuming that somebody in this world is reading my blog at all – and this post – I would be interested in knowing what that reader thinks. :-)


Nandini Vishwanath said...

I think its quite easy to stand for your principles once you are clear in your head. And if you learn that not everyone has to be as stringent with their principles.

And that you are not going to save the world with your principles, but just be a better person. And that should matter to you :)

Its only tough when you are 12. After that, it comes easy.

Vices - who doesn't have them? Lethargy to post is one :P

Anonymous said...

I think that the phrase 'moral science' is an oxymoron ;)