Some questions have no answers, and many questions have no absolute answers. The other day, a young physician came to the ashram. Let’s call her Anu. She was somewhat depressed because of the situation at work. She was facing a moral dilemma.
Working as a doctor for an autonomous body in the armed forces, Anu had to dispense fake medicines. Her patients are defense personnel — the people protecting the country — and they are being given counterfeit medication? Perhaps the downfall of a nation couldn’t be any worse. Anyway, I’m not an umpire of morality nor a writer of politics; instead, I wish to take a spiritual view in all of this.
“Did you report the matter to your senior?” I asked.
“Yes, Swami,” Anu said, “They asked me not to worry. ‘These things happen’, they said. But, my conscience is not allowing me to continue. I’m giving my patients phoney pills and I know they won’t be cured. I want to quit my job, but my family wants me to continue since it’s a government job with many perks and benefits, including a pension.”
“Don’t just quit,” I said, “blow the whistle. If you quit, the problem will continue.”
“But, I’ve only told you one of the problems,” she said. “They are also taking kickbacks and commissions from pathology labs where patients are often referred for tests. Everyone is corrupt. If I report it to the Commanding Officer, who knows what I may have to go through? Further, all my doctor friends who are working in other organizations tell me that I’m being pedantic. They tell me I’m oversensitive. It’s common practice at their workplace, too, they say.”
“Taking commissions may just be malpractice, but giving fake medicines is a downright crime. It’s an unethical, immoral and illegal crime; it’s a crime against humanity. Silence is not always golden, Anu. Silence encourages the criminal. If you keep quiet, you become an accomplice to this misdeed.”
“But, even if I report it, Swami, they may do something really bad to me. Who knows, I may even be fired, whereas everything will go back to the way it was at their end. Oh, I’m so confused. I am in a moral dilemma. I wish my family understood my quandary. I would feel a whole lot better.”
Her moral dilemma was: If she blew the whistle, would anything change at all, and was it worth risking everything?
I asked Anu to write down her principles, to write down what she stood for, and to live accordingly. Her situation is a complicated one; her questions are valid. She has to choose whether she wants to continue with a burden on her conscience, hoping that one day she won’t feel bad about it anymore, or, expose the wrong and put up with the consequences that could range from a suspension to anything unimaginable. Meanwhile, innocent patients will continue to suffer.
I don’t believe that morality is absolute, but when you violate your principles, you place upon yourself the same burden as an immoral act. You can’t escape from yourself. You can only forgive yourself if you don’t repeat it. I always encourage everyone to write down their principles, their top three principles. It always helps to know what we stand for. Decision making becomes somewhat easier then.
Mulla Nasrudin was the magistrate in a local court. The plaintiff’s lawyer presented their side of the case, and Mulla announced a short recess. Immediately upon his return, he gave a judgment in favor of the complainant.
“But, you haven’t even heard our argument!” cried the defense counsel.
“Be quiet,” said Mulla. “I’ve already made up my mind after hearing the plaint. Hearing your plea now will only add to my confusion.”
The truth is, life will confuse you. It will put you in a dilemma. You will have to make choices, make decisions. You will need to make up your mind. There’s little wisdom in putting it off. The course of history was changed by those who challenged ‘common practice’, who refused to withstand oppression, who decided to stand up, and not by those who kept quiet. Nothing changes unless we act on it.
A noble life may have its share of stresses and challenges, but it does bestow inner peace and extraordinary strength. There’s no room for depression in it. Everyone has to face difficult situations in life. And there comes a time when you can’t delay a decision any further, when you must pick a side and clear the dilemma. At that time, if you are confused, find a peaceful spot and write down what matters to you in your life. Thereafter, make a choice that supports your principles and your priorities. Obstacles will become gratifying challenges, and the pursuit will become a fulfilling journey; your life will gain new meaning then.
When you take up a cause bigger than yourself, the whole Universe summons itself to be by your feet, at your disposal. This is the irrefutable law of Nature.