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 with immediate effect, 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.

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.

Sceptics 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 multi-national 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 encashed 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.

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 has 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.

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”, “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!

24 thoughts on “The good that men do

  1. Loved this post..must say’ve hit the nail on the head with this piece..the hypocrisy of big corporates and the schemes they come up with in the name of ‘doing good’ the end of the day it’s always about the bottom line..great post!

    • Thank you. You are right. Corporates have a single-point agenda which, frankly, may also be fine. Trouble happens when they, or some individuals representing them, try to become “holier”.

    • Thank you for the quick survey results 🙂
      I agree. It probably doesn’t matter because they have a single-point agenda.
      I should say that I don’t object to the single-point agenda of corporates; after all they have been created for that sole purpose. What I object to is the duplicity.

  2. As is usual when I read one of your satires, I am entertained by the truth and the hilarity! It’s likely that government types know better than to believe their own spin, but ordinary people who are habitual do-gooders are also annoying in their delusion; in their “unselfishness” they are often the most self-congratulatory people you will ever meet.

    • Thank you Cynthia. I whole-heartedly agree with your comment about ordinary people. My father used to say, and still does, that the people who visit temples most often are the ones who need to. People who lead lives with a clear conscience do not need to make a show of their faith by visiting temples or “doing visible good”.

  3. Just so you know, eventually your bank will realize that you must worry that something bad might happen to the money in your account, so, for your own good, they’ll probably take it all out and close it.

  4. I rest easy knowing there are so many people looking out and doing good for me. Thank you, Ankur, for rescuing me from the edge of the steep drop to utter cynicism. Whew!

    I also rest easy knowing there are people out there who lambast others – for their own good, of course!


    • Then it is a global disease. I had thought it was a localised problem. Having said that, six cents in a year for $5000 doesn’t sound right. It works out to .0012% rate of interest. Though USD deposit rates are pretty low, sometimes non-existent, I have never come across deposit rates quoted down to the third place after decimal. Why don’t they just say it is a non-interest bearing account?

  5. Thanks Ankur for educating me once again and giving a concept for new cartoon.
    Thought of this concept but now I have a clear picture to do.
    Thanks once again.

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