Towards Producing A More Ethical Individual
The answer to the question will definitely influence our way of looking at ethical problems. An affirmative response, for example, will lead to a more pessimistic view of the human behaviour, and subsequently demotivate us to resolve such problems, assuming that rectifying what is inherently unrectifiable is pointless.
Islam, however, has a more optimistic view of the issue. The Qur’an asserts that the human being is created by God in the best form, “Verily We have created the human being in the best of moulds” (ahsani taqwim). In the same vein, a hadith upholds that “every child is born in purity (fitrah)”. Thus, the environment surrounding one is the most likely factor that influences the development of one’s character and behaviour. By environment, it includes family members, education and various elements in the society that interact with one. Not excluded from it is the spiritual dimension such as the desire which comes from the animal soul of human beings as well as spiritual creations such as satan which tirelessly attempts to debase human beings to the abyss of bestiality.
From this perspective, inculcating good virtues in human beings therefore constitutes returning them to their own original nature.
The Qur’an also declares that the human being originally submits himself to God by both affirming His Lordship as well as to the Divine question, “Am I not your Lord?” Alas, some have become easily forgetful of this primordial covenant upon being swayed by the unethical environment surrounding them.
Thus, as a fundamental, the preparation of a proper and conducive environment is crucial in moulding a good individual, which includes wholesome family life, a sound education in schools and a values-laden society that one lives in.
Commonly enough, the point of contention that arises is who is more responsible in producing a good individual? Could the duty be shouldered by parents, the government, teachers, or the society? Such an ambiguity all too often leads to finger-pointing at others especially when a problem rears its ugly head. Many cases have been brought to the courts by aggrieved parties against those for not fulfilling the duties they are entrusted with. Consequently, what initially began as ethical problems that can be resolved through discussions and reconciliations may escalate into legal battles.
One of the ways of looking at responsibilities is by regarding the ethical issue as neither organisational nor societal but individual. From this perspective, each and every individual is responsible for his own actions regardless of the institution he represents. For example, even if a person does something under the ambit of a renowned company that sometimes ‘justifies’ his action, he still bears the responsibility as an individual for it. Similarly, any ethically inappropriate act committed by an individual using his justified position or policy will still be wrong. As the saying goes, although something is legally right, it is ethically wrong.
Likewise with good actions, a person must view them as his alone without associating the institution he represents. For any task performed well, the benefits of which will return to the doer first before anything else. Even if an employee may not be paid for working overtime, he is still considered to have done something virtuous for his own self. In other words, nobody may have known of one’s good deeds that may also go unrewarded, yet the goodness of the very deed incontrovertibly returns to oneself.
The Qur’an throughout enjoins the performing of good deeds. So emphatic are the injunctions that Allah vows that not a single good deed, no matter how atom-sized it may be, will ever go unrewarded by Him. Correspondingly, an atom-sized bad deed will never go unnoticed by God and will be duly punished by Him. This makes ethical matters in Islam more vertical in nature rather than horizontal. It allows a person to look at his deeds beyond human boundaries.
Such a view of ethical issues also implies that each and every person deserves the right to be treated with goodness. It is unacceptable, for example, to compromise the well-being of a member of a society just so others are able to live in comfort. This is because a society is only made up of a group of individuals. Several media reports of late have highlighted cases in which individuals have come forward to complain of their properties being damaged due to other ongoing bigger projects under the banner of ‘the well-being of the majority’. Clearly, this is an encroachment of individual rights made under the pretext of prioritising the needs of a larger segment of the society while overlooking those of the complainants who are also part of the same society and should be accorded similar treatment.
Therefore, of paramount importance is a proper balance between the call for societal well-being and the goodness that an individual deserves. This has to be achieved so as to maintain peace and harmony for all.