Dealing with a hierarchy of values

– What would do if one day, a hungry and homeless on the street begged for a few coins from you? Would you refuse because you consider begging is evil and should be abolished or would you part with a few coins?

·        How would you react if you happened to witness somebody being cruel to another person? Would you be offended and accost the offender or would you just rationalize the act as the karma of the person undergoing the suffering?

·        What would you if you were confronted with a situation where telling truth as it is, is  bound to hurt the person receiving it? Would you refrain from telling the truth as an act of kindness or would you feel that you are compromising with your moral integrity?

·        Would you advertise your achievements to somebody who does not know you or would your sense of humility prevent you from doing that?

These are typical situations that we go through in our daily lives. All of us would agree that we have to live a life of moral rectitude. We all tend to believe in a certain set of core values as the fundamental basis of principled behavior.  We will all agree that all actions should be based on core values of  kindness, compassion, honesty, humility, tolerance.

There is no argument that the above values are vital for good human character. However in our daily lives it never easy to determine the right course of action as the above 4 situations describe. Oftentimes based on the situation we have to order the values and choose one among them that is most appropriate in the given situation.

Typically we will have to deal a hierarchy of human values and pick the value that provides the greatest good in the given situation. It is not easy to make the decision. There is an interesting anecdote in the Mahabharata where a gang of bandits ask a sage whether he saw a man running in a particular direction. While the sage was aware of the murderous intent of the bandits, without batting an eyelid he tells them that the man  was actually hiding in his hut. The bandits promptly catch the poor man and kill him. While the sage felt that he was  behaving honestly, he could have at least withheld the truth thus saving a life.

In my opinion, when there is a conflict of good human values the virtue that is most superior in any given circumstance is kindness and compassion. The Gita also clearly states “that he who is able to share the sorrow and joy of others is a true yogi”. Clearly compassion is high on the list of virtues of the Gita.

Hence when we are confronted with any situation we have to assess the situation, order the values in a hierarchical order and choose the action that provides the greatest good for the greatest time.

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