Ethics and Carrots

I recently read an artlce in newspaper, the headline read “KV students to be given lessons against corruption and terrorism”. The bell in my mind started rining loud, I couldn’t stop it. I wondered how will providing moral or ethical lecture to a group of students who see a large discord between what they are learning vs. the world around them, going to yeild any improvement in a society?

Every now and then, one comes across the mention of how the system is willing to incentivise people to do the right thing. But, how much can you incentivise moral duty and it’s indeed a catch 22 situation, the moment you incentivise moral duty in monetary or non-monetary terms, it becomes just that – “a job” and people start wondering whether they could optimize the amount of moral duty being executed to maximize their gain! (It sounds evil when I write it, but believe me, it does not sound so when you hear me out on the examples below…)

In the mid 90’s articles on how senior management pay packet should be linked to stock performance were published and immediately adopted by major corporations. Major stock options were doled out, however, the result – near-term stock price appreciation oriented goal setting in the executive ranks of the companies, resulting in the downfall and short term thinking related loss of market share of many companies.

Next comes a study on how senior management compensation should be linked to strategy of the company and that going wrong and chances are that this could also go awfully wrong, in the light of the previous experience.

A colleague of mine, pointed me to a very interesting TED talk about how you cannot really incentivise ethics or moral behavior to the last inch and trying to control every bit of a person’s moral and ethical duty might just have reverse repercussions. The speaker narrates a beautiful example of a hospital janitor whose duty is to clean every room in the hospital, every day. However, one day he notices a family waiting to hear some news from the opeartion theater and decides to leave the room alone and not clean it that day. This form of moral duty and concern for other human beings cannot be incentivised and created. These are stories one can circulate and make popular and hope that people emulate them.

However, this does bring me back to my previous point of can you teach moral behavior and ethics, if such stories are not being circulated and emulated by the larger population outside the artificial classroom world? What % of population acting this out will be sufficient to lessen the discord the students will feel day in and day out after school, in the real world, and make the lessons more acceptable?


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