The Good that Men Do

I recently got a message from my bank, one of the largest private banks in the country, informing me that in effect immediately, they would stop sending the monthly statement they have been sending for several years. Instead, they would issue a Passbook which I would need to get periodically updated by visiting the bank. This, they went on to inform me, was for my own good, as this was what most customers wanted.

Plus, they have a new administration.

Plus, they have a new administration.

Never one to stand in the way of someone wanting to do me a good deed, I welcomed the decision.

I recalled an occasion a few years back when the same bank had discontinued the Passbooks that were being used till then, and, instead, started sending monthly statements to customers. Even on that occasion, I fondly recollected, it had been done for my own good. After so many years, I am unable to recall if it was because that was what most customers had asked for. But it was certainly for my own good, since the bank had said so. One does not easily forget such things done for your own good. The memory brought a lump to my throat.

I have often struggled with making choices in an increasingly free-market driven society where there is a plethora of options available, often letting choices be made by default, in order that I cannot be blamed for making the wrong choice, except by my wife. But, I was happy that at least I had chosen the right bank. One that has never wavered in its resolve to take decisions for my good. One that did not shy away from taking decisions for my good that were the opposite of decisions taken for my good at other times. I thanked my stars and mentally patted myself on the back.

Skeptics argue that these could be examples of temporary aberrations. Satirists poke fun at and find faults with decisions taken for the good of others. But I disagree with them. To hell with the nay-sayers, I say. I have faith in mankind’s desire to do good for others. In fact, in my view, people act only for the good of others. I am going to town with my belief that the world is full of do-gooders. And, my belief is not without good reason.

I have worked for many years with multinational corporations, those paragons of virtue. I was there when they decided to withdraw the transport facility provided to junior staff, for their own good. I was there when accumulated leave of staff, normally given as cash at the time of leaving, was cancelled, for their own good. I was there when a part of fixed compensation was converted to variable, management-decision based award, again, for their own good.

I must admit the new logo is a bit creepy

I must admit the new logo is a bit creepy

And corporations are not the sole flag-bearers of the “for the good of others” movement. They, smart, profit-seeking entities that they are, seem to have acted upon cues received from the government, which has, as always, led from the front. Farmers’ lands, for example, have been acquired at throwaway prices for their own good so that a big businessman can set-up an industry and employ them as lowly paid workers. If their land had not been taken over at rock-bottom prices, how would they ever have found these jobs? They would have been forced to continue living as landowners and farmers.

Make no mistakes, the government has not been shy of taking difficult decisions. For the good of others naturally. The growth of the Maoist and Naxalite movements in the country can be directly attributed to the good successive governments have been trying to do to the tribal populations in the country. Successive governments have been asking tribal populations to give up their traditional lifestyles and vast areas of virgin lands they control so that they can get developed by coming and living in matchbox-size houses in cities with no electricity and water. They could even aspire to work as software engineers in Infosys. Who would not want that? Every tribal youngster should have that right. And the right to pretend to know English and work in the night-shift at a Call Centre.

The minister, speaking from his palatial bungalow in the capital, funded by taxpayer money, expressed shock when he came to know that not only do the tribals not have SUVs and powerful German engineered cars, they do not even have a single Japanese or Korean car. “How do they cross the road?” the concerned minister apparently wanted to know. Recovering from the shock of this discovery he went on to say, in no uncertain terms, “We know what is good for them because we live in cities. We also know how much compensation we need to give them when we acquire their land without giving them a choice, and take away their livelihood for their own good.”

Lest the government start believing that goodness to others is their contribution to the world, we need only look at some recent history that doing good to others has been a distinguishing feature of almost all governments and rulers in history. The greater the unchallenged authority of a regime, the greater the good it has done for others.

This chart might explain it better.

This chart might explain it better.

The last occupiers of the country have often being blamed for their mercenary outlook and ambition. “They occupied because they wanted access to cheap raw material.” Or, “They occupied because they wanted a large market for goods being produced in their factories,” are some of the uncharitable reasons attributed to their expansionism.

Scratch the surface and you see the real reason. They occupied for the good of the occupied. They occupied because they wanted to reform the heathen. They occupied because they wanted to teach them about a God and a religious text born a couple of thousand years back, and not keep relying on undated, mythical, multiple ancient texts and figures. They occupied because they wanted to teach them to eat with a fork and knife, instead of using bare hands. They occupied because they wanted to teach them to use paper when they “go,” instead of water. Now, who in his right mind would not want to learn all that.

They might have even wanted to teach them how to get a job with a law firm or a consulting company, but since the twentieth century had not arrived they had to be content in doing the good they could in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

As it is election time, we are seeing that political parties are bad-mouthing opponents, digging up skeletons from cupboards and making unrealistic promises. For what? You guessed it, for the people’s own good.

Everyone is busy doing everyone else good. It is not a new phenomenon. Goodness has never been a matter of chance. It has always been perpetrated consciously and methodically.

Even in this day and age, when one comes across acts of such selfless service, it never fails to bring a lump to the throat.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony famously says “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” I am forced to reword it to “The good that men do lives after them; The evil is oft interred with their bones.” Sorry Bill!

It's good to know there's so much good in the world

It’s good to know there’s so much good in the world

By Ankur Mithal. After completing formal education with a Post Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, Ankur joined his first employer, a multinational bank, and worked for them for over fifteen years. Thereafter, for over seven years, he worked for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) outfits in India. He has now ventured out into the exciting world of online education. His company, Workready Knowledge Solutions, creates off-the-shelf E-Learning solutions designed to make the hiring and training process enjoyable, transparent and cost-effective for corporations. Ankur has published two books so far: What Happens in Office, Stays in Office, is a collection of satirical vignettes set in the workplace and Some Method Some Madness: Managing BPO in India, an operational guide to running a BPO business. He also writs a blog with the same satirical brush which can be accessed on: darkofficehumour.wordpress.com.

©2015, all rights reserved
published with permission of the author

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