Ethics in Private and Public Relationships

Each individual plays various roles in society. The role played by them defines the relations with others. Every day, we play different roles {father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, teacher, student, doctor, leader, businessman, fried, foe, worker, employer, colleagues and so on}. Each of these roles carries expected behaviour called “norms”. The roles define relationships such as marriage, family, friendship, kinship in private sphere of life and teacher-student, doctor-patient, leader-followers, author-reader, employee-employer etc. in public life.

Private Relationships

Each private and personal relationship has its own irreplaceable value. Each of it has its own unique history, character, and set of implicit and explicit understandings about what is to be expected of the parties to it. The governing factors for ethics in private relationships include individual virtues, universal human values, religion, social norms and law.

Public Relationships

Public relationships are governed by many aspects. They may or may not be inherited. Many a times, they comprise complex situations, contradictory values and conflict of role and interest.

Difference between Private and Public Relationships

The private relations are obviously more intimate than public relations. They are generally inherited, relatively permanent; accommodate more tolerance for imperfections, and are full with expectations of love and affection. In contrast, public relations may or may not be inherited, are often temporary; with people who are different from us or even strangers, are likely to be instrumental, engaged in due to mutual benefits (quid pro quid), full with expectation of respect, and accountability and are guarded.

Conflict of Role for a Public Servant

At times, Public servants play conflicting role due to conflict in private life and public life. The private relationships demand individual’s responsibilities towards the role played in private life such as father, mother, husband, etc. These are self-imposed and voluntary and are backed by sanctions of one’s obligations towards self, family and society since ancient times. For example, in our country, the Dharmashshtras provide moral codes to regulate the private relations.

However, in public relationships, the public servant needs to cope with several roles altogether. This includes – role in private life, role in personal and family sphere, role as a professional, role for job, role towards his / her area of jurisdiction, role towards seniors and society / humanity at large.

The public service role invokes legal and constitutional obligations, which when violated invite legal sanctions and penalties. Thus, a public servant needs to cope with these different roles which many a times conflict with each other.

The question is – how to survive while playing such conflicting roles? The key to this is “personal integrity”. Personal integrity is simply taking a sincere and ethical stand.  It also serves as a building block of public confidence and to establish a trust in society.

Ethical Claims and Managing Ethics in Public Service

As per Dwight Waldo, there are 12 spheres of ethical claims {means, what they should or ought to do} for a public servant viz. constitution; law; nation; people; democracy; bureaucratic norms; professionalism; family & friends; personal groups; public interest and welfare and religion. Similarly, the OECD countries publish a set of core values to guide public servants. These core values include impartiality, legality, integrity, transparency, efficiency, equality, responsibility and justice.

This apart, Nolan, in his famous report of Committee of standards of Public life in Britain gave seven basic principles for public servants viz. Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness; Honesty and Leadership.

Conflicts of Interest

Conflict of Interest refers to a situation in which the concerns or aims of two different individual / parties are incompatible. In other way, it is a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.

There are two levels of arise of conflict of interest viz. Organisational conflicts of interest; and Personal conflicts of interest. When a person is not able to render impartial service because of relationships or other activities, it is called organizational conflict of interest. When a person is not able to render impartial service because of his / her own private interests, it is called personal conflict of interest. When one is confused between ethical issues in private and public relationships, the personal conflict of interest is bound to arise. A public servant must also endeavour to avoid conflict of interest by avoiding situations where he / she either benefits personally.

Ideally, the private and public relationships—should be separate. However, practically it is not possible. The public office holders do have private lives, which are driven by whole gamut of emotions and other factors.

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