Saturday, January 22, 2011

Value Dilemma


People who are following values diligently are sometimes faced with situations when one value seems to conflict with another. If one value is practiced, it might result in violating another value. What kinds of situations are we talking about? And how does one deal with such a situation? I give a couple of examples of conflicting situations to illustrate the point.

Instance one: An animal, say a cow, has escaped a butcher and is running down a road with the butcher in hot pursuit. It takes a side road and the butcher does not see it. He goes up to a pedestrian who has witnessed the entire sequence and asks him if he has seen the animal. If the pedestrian speaks the truth he ends up sending the poor animal to its death which it is seeking to escape from. Thus, truth (value) is seen as conflicting with compassion (value).

Instance two: A group of fundamentalists are attacking / persecuting a person for his religious views which are conflicting with theirs. The attacks are ferocious and life threatening. A group of neutral by-standers are watching this and have to decide whether to interfere or not. One value (that of protecting the weak and defenceless) is conflicted with the value of non-violence.

There could be so many instances in our daily lives that put us in such a dilemma. Should one use the cane on a child or use more gentle approaches? Should one continue to trust someone even when there are instances where the trust is betrayed?

One way would be to go "with ones conscience" and "listen to the heart". All lay people would recommend this as it is easy to implement and seems most logical. The problem, however, is that one conscience is conditioned by ones upbringing and past experiences. This may lead to different people using different approaches when dealing with similar situations. This is not desirable as inconsistencies are not the sign of a mature and balanced society.

This is the reason why our seers wrote epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabaratha to guide people on the best way to deal with situations. The reading of such epics is essential for all if we have to develop a consistent approach on dealing with value dilemmas. The stories are intricately narrated with various instances of conflicting situations and one can learn from how the characters deal with such situations. Dharma or Values are explained at length throughout such epics in a very logical and convincing way.

In the first instance given above the protection of the animal is considered as a higher value and therefore has to be followed even at the cost of being untruthful. And in the second instance, the reaction of the by-stander would be based on their caste (a brahmin may advice and a kshatriya has to fight) and in case of doubt, the value of protecting is higher than that of non-violence.

I would love to hear comments on this very important topic for discussion.

3 comments:

Lauren Sheil said...

I disagree with your assessment of the first instance. If you value truth and the life of the cow equally your values dictate that you convince the butcher the error of his ways, thus saving not only that one cow but all others from his knife, even while telling him where the cow ran to.

AS said...

I agree with your view that what is right and what is wrong is subjective and depends on how a persons has had his upbringing.
I would tend to disagree that Mahabharata and Ramayana are in toto to be followed for the ethics. With time there has to be a refinement of the ethics too. What was valid that time might not be today.
What is a value and how is a value installed in a person?
How does the value of a value transition with time?
Is there any absolute value to the values?
Too many questions that are coming to the mind .... :)

Sonal Raisinghani said...

Epics like Ramayana, Mahabarata, Guru Granth Sahib, Quran,Bible etc...work as guiding aids for deciding our next course of action when caught up in a dilemma...
To put this in simple terms - " Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you " Listen to your inner voice and you shall always be a contented lot.
Negative actions will generate negative results and positive actions will always give positive results..