26 Sep 2018 22:14 IST

Guided by a strong moral compass

Why are people ready to follow rules and regulations only when driven by the fear of punishment?

A compass is a tool that’s integral to our everyday life though most of us are not even aware of this reality. The needle of a compass always points North because of the magnetic field and this helps the user to determine the other directions. Whenever anyone uses an app for a map, or is actually using a map, the compass function comes into play. The constant and consistent pointer to the North is the anchor that enables the users to determine the other directions and routes accurately. This enables users to locate their current position as also the way forward.

In a similar vein, our moral compass should always point towards whatever is right as this would help a person differentiate between right and wrong.

At a very broad level, the concept of right and wrong changes across religions, cultures and generations. This is largely defined by the belief system inculcated in a person’s psyche during their growing up years. Regardless of the differences, a consistent ground rule that cannot ever change is that intentionally causing harm is wrong.

Norms of behaviour

The other dimension of right and wrong is the following of guidelines, rules and laws in a community, society or country. This becomes important in the context of uniform behaviour and accepted norms for the same. The debate always crops up exists whether such rules or the law is right or wrong, and they are thus open to be questioned and challenged.

However, till there a clear mandate and decision to change any such guideline, following the same is expected and the lack of adherence leads to a breakdown of order, leading to chaos. A simple example is basic traffic guidelines and rules. If everyone decided to drive in any direction they wanted and in any manner that they like, forget about the chaos on the road, it would result in several accidents, injuries to people, and possibly death.

These thoughts came to my mind recently when I saw an auto-rickshaw speeding towards a signal which had turned red. Clearly the driver had no intention of stopping at the signal. Suddenly a traffic policeman who had been standing on the side happened to step on to the edge of the road, where he was now visible. This auto-rickshaw driver braked suddenly on noticing the traffic policeman. The speed at which he was driving and the sudden braking almost toppled the vehicle and also led to a chain reaction of others skidding to a halt. A major accident was narrowly avoided although I still wonder how that did not take place.

Right direction?

On witnessing this I started to wonder about the reasons that compelled that driver to speed past a red signal and yet brake suddenly when he noticed a policeman. Clearly the driver knew that jumping a red signal was wrong and yet he did not care. It did not bother the driver that he might hit another vehicle or even a person who might step on to the road to start crossing it. It was only when he noticed the policeman that he stopped, and even that was motivated by the fear of punitive action against him.

This instance is only illustrative of a larger issue. Individuals seem to be ready to follow rules and regulations as also avoid any wrong-doing only when driven by the fear of punishment. Why is that becoming prevalent? Is that the right direction for all of us? More on this in the next column.

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