On Values and Virtues

On Values and Virtues

“Never expected to see you in London” I told Lulu, my parrot. There is a large parrot community in London. No Sir, I am not talking about those who do ‘parroting’ – they exist in abundance everywhere.

“We parrots don’t require passport to travel to London” Lulu said. There are obvious advantages of being a parrot. “You, human beings have created boundaries everywhere and divided the world, communities and almost everything you can see.”

“You are a very intelligent specimen of your species, Lulu.” I wanted to say ‘philosophical’, but chose ‘intelligent’ over that word; encouraging a talkative philosopher comes with the attendant risk of boredom. “We read so much about the divided world; but there are several stories of Muslims saving lives of Hindus and vice versa during the partition or communal riots.” I added.

“True. Some people decide what is right for themselves. Like Dr Shrikhande.”

“The renowned surgeon who was the physician for President of India?”

“Yes. He has written in his autobiography that a patient who was give anaesthesia fell down from the operation table before the operation could begin. The issue was whether to operate in spite of the fall, which Dr Shrikhande decided not to do for patient’s safety. The damage, if any, done by the fall had to be assessed.”

“Obvious choice.”

“Not really. It had to be followed by telling the patient and his relatives why the operation was postponed. There were risks; a grave risk of personal reputation. He chose to be honest and truthful! And the patient trusted him to perform operation even after the disclosure – or perhaps because of the disclosure!!”

“Those two were great decisions, it requires courage! Wow!!”

“Let me read out this to you from a book; ‘Aristotle believed that a virtue lay in the middle of two contrary vices and described it as “the mean by reference to two vices: the one of excess and the other of deficiency”. Courage—for example, lies between foolhardiness and cowardice. Dr Shrikhande would have had to avoid being foolish highlighting his refusal to operate, and would have had to explain carefully how he actually played safe for the patient.’

“Such an insight! And he was obviously not a coward. ‘Courage lies between foolhardiness and cowardice.’ Wow! Imagine Muslims or Hindus finding this mean while saving the lives of the other. What makes people take such action? That is an important question.”

“A question of character! And a character is built over a long period. Thru virtues.”

“You mean values?”

“Nah! I mean virtues. Put simply, virtue means behaviour showing high moral standards. Virtues point to a way of ‘being’.”

“I had read about ‘Cardinal Virtues.’

“Cardinal virtues – the word cardinal comes from the Latin word ‘cordo’ which means ‘a hinge.’ Cardinal virtues are the hinges upon which the door of moral life opens and closes.”

“And what are they?”

Lulu, my parrot

“Four virtues – Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Courage. Prudence is the ability to judge between actions with regard to what is appropriate at a given time, and Justice means proper moderation between self-interest and the legitimate rights and needs of others.”


“And Temperance is the practice of self-control, restraint and moderation, and courage, as we have seen, is the ability to confront fear and uncertainty or intimidation with fortitude and endurance.”

“These are the subjects around which a meaningful conversation gets built.
Even a good performance review discussion also revolves around these themes.”

“You are right!”

“Take the case of disciplinary action against an employee. Or any conflict situation. These very virtues come in play. Prudence, Justice….”

“You said it!”

“Okay, okay! Now tell me, why does the corporate world trumpet values and not virtues? Every organisation has declared its values on the website.”

“Because the meaning of values has lost its moral moorings in recent times. A good look at product liability cases should tell you actual stories. Commercial organisations are wary of talking of virtues.”

“I must find out the values declared by Mallya’s Kingfisher and Nirav Modi’s Gitanjali.”

“They have pulled down their website. Ha, ha! Values may have lost their moral moorings, but not virtues. Think of values and virtues like a person’s personality and character.”

“I get it; virtues guide critical decisions… the defining moments…., as in the case of Dr Shrikhande. They point to one’s character which is like foundation of a building. Not seen.” I said, removing my reading glasses.

“But corporate values are visible, like personality, not always moored in morality. And what matters to them is that they are marketable!” Lulu said. Laughing at my shock, he laughed and flew away.

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Featured image: ‘The Ship of Tolerance’