The dilemma of “Ego or Eco”


Human greed has created much destruction. The evil head of power can also contribute to such calamities. Self-centered politicians who are very worried about their benefits and privileges continue the same old saga. The opportunistic scramble for ministerial office has become a higher priority than options to help the suffering masses. What is really missing? It is the transition to “letting go”, consciously moving from “ego” to “eco”.

Today’s column is not about the chaotic crisis that tangles us, but about a coveted and necessary awakening among us all. It’s a delicate balance between two E’s, being ethical and efficient.

Ethics in the midst of an economic crisis

Ethics is difficult to define precisely. In a general sense, ethics is the code of moral principles and values ​​that governs the behavior of a person or a group regarding what is right or what is wrong. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” says the golden rule of ethics. The current economic crisis is a testing time for ethics where the balance between employers’ expectations and employees’ aspirations will be extremely difficult.

Focusing more on business ethics, it is the ability to reflect on values ​​in corporate decision-making, determining how those values ​​and decisions affect various stakeholder groups, and establishing how managers can use these observations on a daily basis. business management. A code of ethics is a formal statement that serves as a guide for making decisions and acting within an organization. Richard Daft, a well-known management author talks about a four-way test, which is advocated globally by Rotary International.

1. Is the decision true?

2. Is it fair to everyone involved?

3. Will it benefit everyone involved?

4. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

The answer must be “yes” to all of the above questions for the decision to be ethical. The reality of ethics is that the answer must always be “numerical”. Either you are ethical or unethical, and there is no middle ground. The challenge in this regard is to engage employees while ensuring that they are guided to be ethical and effective.

In the search for a lasting answer to the urgent need to be ethical and efficient, the twin terms, Nishkam Karma and Sakam Karma make a lot of sense. These terms were introduced to management circles by Chakraborty, a management researcher from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB).

Nishkam Karma

Nishkam Karma is a term derived from the revered Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita. It literally means detached involvement. Performing work, accepted on the basis of agreed remuneration, with little calculation or comparison with others, or concern for further personal recognition, gain or reward during or at the end of the work . A verse in the Bhagavad Gita states the principle of Nishkam Karma as follows:

“You have a right to action, but only to action, never to its fruits; let the fruits of your works not be your motive, and let there be no attachment to inactivity in you.

‘Nishkam Karma’ can also be described as a selfless or desireless action, which is performed without any expectation of fruits or results. This is the central principle of the Karma Yoga path to Liberation, according to the Hindu texts.

Now, it has now found a place not only in business management, management studies, but also in promoting better business ethics. Its modern advocates insist on achieving success by following the principles of yoga and going beyond personal goals and agendas while pursuing all action for the greater good, which has become well known since it is the central message. of the Bhagavad Gita.

In Indian philosophy, action or Karma has been divided into three categories, according to their intrinsic qualities or gunas. Here Nishkam Karma belongs to the first category, Satvik (pure) or actions that add to calmness; Sakam Karma (self-centered action) comes in the second rājasika (aggression) and Akarma (in action) comes under the third, tāmasika which correlates with darkness or inertia

I came across a text titled “Summer Showers in Brindavan” which further supports the virtues of Nishkam Karma.

“Man can be described as a conglomeration of thoughts and ideas. Every little thought becomes part of his life. The quality of feelings one has determines one’s future. Therefore, he must install sacred ideas in his heart. Promoting pure thoughts will foster the spirit of selfless service in our hearts. Nishkama karma uproots bestiality in man and endows him with divinity.

Selfless service is a more exalted means of spiritual progress than other means such as meditation, bhajans and yoga. This is so because when we undertake meditation, japa or yoga, we do so for our own benefit and not for the good of others. These aim to subjugate his individual desires and ensure happiness. What we should aspire to is the realization of the good of others without any desire for personal gain.

Sakam Karma as the opposite

The opposite of Nishkama Karma is called Sakam Karma, which means attached involvement. As Chakraborty explains, it means performing work, accepted on the basis of agreed remuneration, with anxious comparative calculation to others, for further personal recognition, gain or reward during or at the end of work.

Commenting on the Indian scenario, he states:

“The 1980s have often been described as the ‘foodie decade’. A similar phenomenon started in India in the 1990s, initiated by the mega stock-banking scam. Several high profile corporate presidents and CEOs, chief justices, vice chancellors, state civil service commission chairmen, senior officials and other prominent public figures fell into a cloud, after having been involved in unethical practices”

This does not in any way mean that one should leave the affairs of the world to become an ascetic. As Sri Aurobindo has rightly pointed out, “The action done with Nishkam Karma is not only the highest, but the wisest, most powerful and most effective even for the affairs of the world”. A desirable scenario would be to see engaged employees detach, while continuing to engage. A simple example might be a bank manager who devotes himself to achieving given goals, with all his heart, without thinking about what he would get in return. The opposite of that will be another manager working hard on a personal agenda, yearning to get the next promotion sooner.

Compare the two commitments

The differences between Nishkam Karma and Sakam Karma are shown in Table 1. As it clearly shows, what we see is a clear comparison between “green” and “greed”. (Table 1)

Detachment reduces greed and increases your tendency to be “green”. It means having a greater consciousness towards nature. It conserves your psychological energy by reducing backbiting, undercutting, carrying tales, and other negative behaviors prevalent in a typical workplace. With perfection being the goal, managers can prepare for continuous improvement rather than narrowly focus on winning in any way. The Covid-19 pandemic has amply shown us the impermanence of life and the folly of fighting for things we could carry beyond death.

There is a French saying that you have to know when to leave a party. I have seen many managers struggle to give up their authority and the associated benefits. Seeing your successor take your work to a greater height is somewhat difficult for some of us. Training those who have potential, developing their successor or sharing their experiential knowledge with young people are actions that some people hesitate to take. They all come down to attachment.

The litmus test here is the ability to “detach” while engaging. Former US President John F Kennedy’s widely publicized statement is: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask yourself what you can do for the country”.

Such an approach is very relevant for a wide variety of institutions, in order to train ethical and effective employees. This echoes the justification needed when general election ramblings loom on the horizon.

Go forward

As we often observe, the post-Covid-19 pandemic needs people-centered leaders. They must demonstrate the balance between ethics and efficiency. Essentially, authentic leaders must demonstrate more Nishkam Karmathan Sakam Karma in their words and deeds. What is being demonstrated by healthcare workers with the proper support from the military and other officials in the fight against Covid-19 is a dynamic display of Nishkam Karma. We need a similar conscious and collective effort to stop the current economic crisis.

“The root of suffering is attachment,” said the Buddha. The concept of Nishkam Karma, in my opinion, is very relevant and applicable to Sri Lankan leaders from all walks of life with its refreshing invitation. Clinging to power without giving up has become a phenomenon in political, business and other spheres, creating great distress for many. What is far more rewarding is doing what you can wherever you can to those in need with the least expectation in return.

It is worth reflecting the relevance of ‘detached involvement’ without diluting the much-needed commitment to rebuilding the struggling economy as a happy and healthy nation. It is the coveted process necessary to navigate post-Covid-19 prosperity.


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