How to Manage Injustice with Moral Clarity

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Manish Bhardwaj
E 141

In This Podcast

  • Why we’re all such good instrumentalists
  • We aren’t trained to navigate difficult issues morally
  • Moral clarity and justice requires accompaniment
  • Leaders should rely on moral authority

Capitalism has served us well in many ways, says Manish Bhardwaj, CEO and founder of Innovators in Health, but it has also exacerbated injustice and inequality worldwide. So, how can we address the problems at the heart of this? How can we design more just systems? By having moral clarity. 

In this episode of Corporate Unplugged, Manish explains we first need to understand why there is injustice in the world, before we can find a solution. A lot of our failures today, says Manish, are failures of imagination. We’re really good instrumentalists, we know how to crunch data, what we lack is a fluency in the language of morality. 

To find out more about cultivating moral clarity, download and listen to this episode today. 

Show Notes

Why We Need to Cultivate Moral Clarity with Manish Bhardwaj

Last year, Manish Bhardwaj, moral leader and CEO of Innovators in Health, and Fellow of the Dalai Lama Centre for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, gave a TED talk that has since had 1.1 million views. 

What was so compelling about this talk? Well, in it Manish explained how we need to come together to do the hardest thing there is, which is, to envision and then build a just world. Because while capitalism has served us well in many ways, it has also exacerbated injustice and inequality worldwide. 

So, how can we address the problems at the heart of this? How can we design more just systems?

“I think where we start is to understand why there is injustice. And to not look at a particular business, but to think in terms of what are the structural forces that we now face? The other thing we need is to cultivate our moral clarity and moral imagination. A lot of our failures today are failures of imagination.”

We’re really good instrumentalists, says Manish, we know how to crunch data, we know how to strategise, we know how to execute. What we need now, is to be more fluent in the language of morality, and to understand that morality is very different from fundamentalism, or being moralistic or down on people who might not be doing the right thing. 

Why we’re all such good instrumentalists

One of the main reasons we’re good instrumentalists, says Manish, is because instruments are often tangible; they’re easy to describe, you can specify what an instrument should do, you can then measure if the instrument is doing what it should be doing. Instruments give us a sense of control. In comparison, says Manish, the moral world is different; in the moral world we have to deal with a lot of ambiguity. 

“We are drawn to instrumentalism whenever we are faced with a societal problem. Our first response is: maybe there is a silver bullet policy, maybe there is a silver bullet technology, maybe there is a silver bullet business model that’s going to fix everything. And I don’t want to minimise instruments and instrumentalism, but just using instruments has never made the world more just.”

We aren’t trained to navigate difficult issues morally

One of our biggest failings, says Manish, is we’ve convinced ourselves we aren’t the source of societal problems, and that we would never create a racially unjust world, or be structurally part of the problem without realising it. Our tendency is to believe that something or someone else will resolve things for us. By simply saying ‘I can’t do it’, we believe we’re off the hook. 

And so when we’re faced with big issues, we haven’t been trained to respond to them. And while we don’t want people to suffer, we also don’t know how to take the next step, because we’ve not been trained to find the solution. 

“It’s like I always say, if you’re not trained in rocket science, and I asked you to design a mission to Mars, it’s ridiculous. It would sound ridiculous. But in the moral world, that’s what we expect people to do, to somehow without training, be able to navigate these very difficult issues.”

Using the language of moral clarity

One of things putting people off leading with morality is they worry they’ll be dismissed as being idealist. But idealism is much misunderstood, says Manish, and unfairly maligned. To be an idealist simply means to recognise that there are two worlds, the world as it is, e.g. the one we embody with all these constraints. And the world that ought to be right, e.g. the ideal world. And to be an idealist only means separating these two things and wanting to go from as it is to as it ought to be; versus realism, which says there is only one world – the one we live in right now, and rejects anything rooted in imagination and ideas.

“If you do not speak in moral terms, you’re never going to transform your organisation or inspire your employees. You will never be a leader, you will be a follower of trends. And you will always be late. If you want to lead from the front, be known as the organisation in your sector that doesn’t follow, that sets the goals, then you have to embrace the label and understand exactly what it means.”

Introducing morality into the education system

To understand morality, today’s students have to understand the nature of injustice, says Manish. We need to expose them to the structures of the way the world works, in particular, those structures that we don’t always see. What does economic justice have to do with gender justice, or racial justice? asks Manish, those look like different problems, yet they’re interconnected. 

So, once you understand structurally how injustice works, you then need to truly understand the problem and learn how to reconcile that we are not always going to be able to land at the ideal solution every time. But if we can reconcile our constraints with what we ideally think should happen, we should be able to reach a satisfactory solution. 

The problem is, we too often throw up our hands and say, ‘my morality is different from your morality, we have different sets of values, and so does every person. This is some kind of amorphous thing that can never be taught, it’s not our job to teach it. But, says Manish, if you look at the mission statement of any university, it’s essentially a moral statement saying we exist for the service of humanity. And how can you serve humanity if you aren’t teaching people what humanity is in the first place?

Moral clarity and justice requires accompaniment

If you truly want to help people, says Manish, you need to immerse yourself in the lives of those you’re trying to help. If you can do that, if you can stay in the game long enough, you’ll figure out the rest of it. 

The second thing, says Manish, is to understand all the stakeholders, even those you are actively working against. If you’re an activist, you’re going to agitate against someone, but you still need to talk to them. A lot of those conversations might be useless, but if you don’t do it, you won’t have knowledge of the entire system and how it works. 

“We need to discover our own humanity, and big parts of our humanity are in the dark. And the only way to discover our humanity is to get to know each other well. It is impossible for you and I, in our current condition, to fully understand, for instance, the asphyxiating or drowning anxiety of what it means to be poor.”

Leaders should rely on moral authority

First and foremost, leaders have an obligation to their teams. Your people are your biggest innovators, and if you don’t make the welfare of your team a priority above all else, are you the right person to lead your team? Of course, says Manish, leaders have executive authority, they can hire and fire etc, but great leaders almost do not rely, or very seldom rely on that authority. Instead they rely on moral authority. 

“People want to see you struggle when making difficult decisions. Even if you don’t get it right every time, they want you to acknowledge what the right thing to do is, and where you’re not able to do it to say that.”

Because what the world needs most at this time, says Manish, is to see the humanity in those people we find it most difficult to see humanity in. 

“I want everyone to imagine some politician that they absolutely cannot stand and do this very difficult thing of trying to see humanity in everyone. And I think that would be a good start.”

If the talk resonates with you, we’d recommend you listen to this episode too: Charles Eisenstein