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Emphasis on creed and craft

Ashok Khosla

Despite all the measures taken by governments in the South towards the development of
their economies, we appear to be losing group literally and figuratively. Much more has to be
done to bring about the changes needed if society is to attain a better and more secure
future. “Development” is a process that is increasingly undermining itself. Widespread social
breakdown and environmental damage are now creating costs to society that absorb more
and more of its resources. The big dams and thermal power projects, the huge steel mills
and coal mines, the gigantic refineries and fertilizer plans have displaced millions of people
from their incomes and livelihoods, destroyed the forests and soils and lead to irreversible
loss of the genetic and other value able resources.
We can continue in this direction only at our own, immediate, peril. Neither the problems of
poverty nor those of pollution can be removed either by unthinkingly accepting one type of
“development” as the only correct one or blindly rejecting another. In a country as diverse as
India with people and resources whose characteristics span a range that is almost global, no
single type of solution can be enough. Our needs will require solutions that are both big and
small, public and private and combine the modern with the traditional.

The professional, partly because of the specialised training and partly because of varying
degrees of greed and graft has, in a quite real sense, betrayed the society, which has
responded its trust in him or her. While taking full advantage of the social and economic
benefits of development for himself and his class of people, he has given very little thought to
the needs of other classes or groups of people. This is a short-sighted view, likely at best to
be self-defeating and at worst suicidal.
Why should the professional subscribe to the values of sustainable development? Ultimately,
the answer to this question lies in the values held by society, and in how well its educational
and reward systems help the professional incorporate these values into his own sphere of
work.
Sustainable development on a global scale can only be achieved if each society chooses
development options that respond to its aspirations and needs within the opportunities and
constraints of its resources. Developing countries like India have now, therefore, to evolve
their development priorities in the light of their own realities, instead of continuing to use
borrowed ones either from other traditions whose context is entirely different, or from former
colonial maters, whose aim was to exploit resources, not conserve them.
It is for this reason that self-reliance, the capacity to choose and design one’s own future,
becomes a necessary pre-condition for sustainable development.

For a society meaningfully to design its development path, it must build new kinds of
institutions that deal directly and interactively with the administrative, scientific and technical
issues. In this effort, it is the more powerful agents of change, and particularly the design
professions, broadly defined, which must play a leadership role.
As shown by three centuries of western science, a reward system administered by the
pressure of peers is perhaps the most effective way to ensure quality and integrity, without
hurting creativity. But even the scientist has not been totally successful in internalizing
societal values into his or her enterprise. What both the scientific and other professional
communities now have to develop are value systems, enforced if possible by their internal
mechanisms, to ensure that their work does not undermine the objective of the wider society
within which they operate but rather reinforces them.
What is now needed is to turn from greed and graft back to creed and craft for renewing the
pledge that a professional makes to society when graduating from training into professional
practice. Even though the Hippocratic Oath may no longer mean to medical doctors what it
once used to mean, it represents the kind of commitment each professional has to make for
the conduct of his or her work. The lawyer, the doctor, the engineer, the architect, the civil
servant or any other professional will have to recognize that fulfilment of the narrow goals set
by purely personal or even professional consideration is not enough to satisfy real social
needs. On the contrary, it is formula guaranteed to lead to sub optimal and often-dangerous
results.

The Hippocratic Oath addresses itself primarily to the question of integrity and, to a lesser
extent of excellence. It requires the professional to carry out his or her duty at the highest
level of that individual’s ability. It does not, however, address the equally important questions
of relevance, which is determined by the broader context within which the professional’s work
is carried out. What is now needed, therefore, is carried out. What is now needed, therefore,
is an extended professional commitment that covers the need for all these element –
integrity, excellence and relevance.