Ethics are easy, right?
Pay your taxes. Don’t break the law. Keep your promises.
These are the rules everyone should follow. People either follow them or knowingly break them, but there is usually no question of whether something is right or not. Black and white are fairly straightforward. Tough ethical questions are reserved for philosophy professors; the rest of us have a pretty comfortable understanding.
However, you won’t last long in India unless you get more comfortable with grey. Whites can be grey, blacks are grey, and even greys are greyer than you wish they were.
Luis decides to partner with Yogesh to distribute his products in India.
Yogesh’s company has been family-owned for three generations and has a high standing in the market. The partnerships gets off to a strong start.
After reading up on India, Luis knows he should get into Yogesh’s inner circle. He regularly asks about Yogesh’s children, Arvind (22), and Arthi (17). Luis schedules extended trips to India, and has even taken some family vacations with Yogesh.
About a year into their relationship, Yogesh mentions to Luis that Arvind has finished his Master’s degree and is looking for some work experience before joining the family business. Yogesh suggests it would be good for Arvind to work for Luis so that he can learn more about international business.
Luis is in a bind. He maintains a strict policy to not mix family and business aside from conversation. One of his own VPs recently asked Luis to hire his son and he told him he couldn’t to avoid the impression of favoritism.
For Yogesh, the request seems very simple. Arvind is the heir apparent for the business and needs this kind of exposure. Luis has always shown interest in Arvind, and it is also in Luis’ best interests to make sure Arvind gets the exposure he needs.
These kinds of situations occur frequently in India. What seems ethically challenging to you is more cut-and-dry for them. What seems obvious to you is complex to them. This creates a lot of grey areas.
Indian ethics are not so much situational as they are relational. What is “right” is first and foremost about who is involved.
Here is a hierarchy of filters that determines what is right in the Indian context, the first being the most important:
- How will this affect my relationships, especially those in my inner circle?
- What is the immediate cost implication (mostly money, and to a lesser degree time) associated with each action?
- What are the universal or national laws about this action?
Only if there isn’t a clear answer to the first two questions are universal laws even considered. This is how your grey starts looking white here.
The Hindu concept of varnasrama dharma says the correct action (dharma) is based on both your stage of life and your position in society. Therefore, what is right for you may not be right for someone else. Similarly, what is right for you today may not be what is right for you two years from now.
Universal absolutes are not common in India, and you should stop looking for them if you want to live here very long.
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