Can a man’s virtues cancel out his wrongdoings?

Last Updated: Wed, Oct 30, 2013 10:28 hrs

Do virtuous acts contravene a person's wrongdoings? Friends and admirers of fallen icon Rajat Gupta have all cited his numerous deeds of philanthropy and altruism, the acts of generosity that he has performed in his personal capacity. No less than world statesmen like Kofi Annan and Bill Gates have written letters citing instances of these.

Can a man's virtues cancel out his wrongdoings? Should it?

This question is all the more pertinent in the case of Lance Armstrong. A man whose personal courage gave hope to and raised millions for cancer victims. Does the fact that he has been shown to have feet of clay erase all the good that he ever did?

The question gets even murkier when it is applied to the British disc jockey, television and radio personality, the late Jimmy Saville, who has recently been revealed to be a paedophile who preyed on young children, often the most vulnerable, in hospital rooms. That he was also a fundraiser, philanthropist and the BBC's celebrated do-gooder makes the question of evil being tempered by good an even tougher one.

Time and again we are reminded that good and evil are just two sides of the same coin, that both exist in all humans and often our responses have to be far more nuanced than can be conveyed in newspaper headlines, twitter posts or TV debates.

Should the leader of a state, who was in office during one of the worst genocides of a minority community be later forgiven for focusing on all-round development and bringing prosperity and better standards of living for all?

Should a company that robs villagers of their land, resources and traditional ways of life be let off the hook for the noble work undertaken by its CSR initiatives?

Can a man who beats his wife be absolved because he is an exemplary community leader who devotes many hours to the uplift of the disenfranchised?

Take the case of the two outstanding icons of our age - Bill Gates and Steve Jobs - both men of the same age and from the same industry, who have done so much to impact our lives.

Besides his enormous contribution through his products which have improved the quality of our lives, Gates has also famously devoted the rest of his days to philanthropy through his massive donations, the work undertaken by the Gates Foundation and by urging other business leaders to follow his example.

Jobs, on the other hand, expressed little interest in anything but his business. In fact, aspects of his life, revealed in the numerous biographies written on him, have not shown him to be overly noble or compassionate on many occasions. Does that make him a lesser man that Gates? Is his life less iconic than that of his famous peers? Has it made an iota of difference to the respect and admiration he commands?

How much good does a good man have to do to win our respect and admiration? In the cosmic mathematical equation, does one good deed carry the same value as one act of evil?

Perhaps the only way to reconcile these questions is to concern ourselves with our own personal components of good and evil; to recognise that they exist within us as they do in others, and try and not be too judgmental about them.

As for Rajat Gupta, his sentencing to two years in jail does indicate that his virtuous past did earn him a relatively lighter sentence.

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