Power, Morality and Role

24/04/2013 15:48 BST | Updated 22/06/2013 10:12 BST

This week I was in India, visiting some clients in New Delhi. I had the opportunity to spend some time visiting a Hindu temple. Whilst I was there I remarked on a painting of a God talking to a young prince. The answer made me reflect on the different roles we each play and on the importance of separating them.

In Hinduism - as it was explained to me - there are three aspects of God: the creator, the organiser and the destroyer. There are then also gods and goddesses that reflect almost every activity of life. It was interesting that the powers and morality of an activity were specific to that activity.

In the painting Vishnu was explaining to a prince who had refused to fight his brothers on the battlefield that his moral duty as a soldier was, in that context, to fight and defend his people, even against his brothers.

In the context of the family, his moral duty was to his parents and siblings.

These different contexts defined very different morality and activities. In different contexts, different rules applied. In Hinduism, then, it seems that power and morality are very much related to role - and roles should be kept distinct. It was a fascinating visit and discussion.

It's clear to most of us that the actions and morality we expect of a doctor, for example, are very different from the actions and morality would expect from a soldier. But it was interesting to reflect on how, even for the same person, correct action could change in different contexts.

It reminded me of a busy period in my life when I was working hard for a large multinational. I was managing large groups of people addressing complex issues, and when I came home from work my head was often still in this mode.

What helped me at the time was having small kids. They didn't care about my work issues and they generally took no notice of my attempts to organise them. They just wanted to play. Having this very different family role to return to in the evening, put my business role in context (not so important) and give me a break. It also punctured any possibility of developing a sense of self-importance.

We are all defined by a range of relationships, boss and subordinate, parent and child, friend, sibling, etc. Correct action in each of these relationships may be slightly different - but they all have their own distinct morality and pattern of action and reaction.

The separation of roles is also important, if we bring our actions and morality from one role into another it could cause problems. Today we talk a lot about work:life balance, and in my view it goes both ways, we work long hours and are tempted to check our e-mails in the evening (even though we know that the vast majority of them are irrelevant even during the day). But on the other hand, we often spend a significant part of our day on non-work issues - some surveys show us spending up to 20% of our time on social media, web surfing and socialising. If this is the case then we shouldn't be surprised if we have to spend a bit of time in the evening catching up.

Perhaps the answer is to focus on the role we are performing right now. Rather than multitasking our way through our work and our family time, and doing neither well, maybe we should focus on our work during the work day and our families at other times.

In meditation, practitioners talk of 'mindfulness', of focusing on the present, of "being here now." With all the distractions at work it can be hard to focus on the present and be fully invested in the work you are doing.

But if you do, you might find you become much more productive and actually get home a little earlier too.