Book Review: The Moral Compass — Finding balance and purpose in an imperfect world

Sivaram Pillai | Updated on: Sep 21, 2022
The Moral Compass: Finding Balance and Purpose in an Imperfect World by Hardayal Singh 

The Moral Compass: Finding Balance and Purpose in an Imperfect World by Hardayal Singh 

The book is a celebration of the triumph of moral integrity and the ability of humans to overcome very difficult experiences

I bet you have faced moral dilemmas many times, either in your personal or professional life! As they say; “stuff happens”. The question is whether the strength of our character helps us to think clearly and make the right choice when we are faced with such situations. The Moral Compass by Hardayal Singh is all about this. The subtitle of the book does say it is about “Finding Balance And Purpose In An Imperfect World”.

In his distinguished career with the Indian Revenue Service for more than three decades, which included a stint with the Central Vigilance Commission, Hardayal Singh dealt with over 15,000 corruption cases and came across many ethical and moral dilemmas that officials faced in discharging their duties.

These experiences have given him ample opportunities to see firsthand how the human mind deals with moral dilemmas. The book is a collection of 17 such stories, including the real-life story of Professor Satish Dhawan and Dr Abdul Kalam (Chapter 8).

Overall, the book is a celebration of the triumph of moral integrity and the ability of humans to overcome very difficult experiences, including incarceration in jail for months together. The author’s commentary on each story demonstrates his deep understanding of how the human mind works apart from his vast knowledge of related matters.

While each of the 17 stories makes us think about how the protagonist would have faced a moral dilemma including why he or she makes a particular decision, the story of Venkitesh Prasad (Chapter 6; Changing Adversity into Opportunity) stayed with me for many days.

When he knew his future as a medical student was forever doomed, the thought in his mind was, ‘Let them hang me if they want. I did this to save my poor family’. His efforts later in life to study law and eventually set up a legal assistance platform for the poor and innocent are nothing but changing adversity into opportunity.

One other story (Chapter 8: The Incredible Power of Humility) which demonstrates how a true leader should be, also made me relate to my own experiences. The story talks about how Prof Satish Dhawan handled the failure of the first Indian satellite launch by the team led by Abdul Kalam as well as the subsequent successful launch by the same team.

‘When the mission was doomed, Dhawan himself had faced the fire, defending his team. When they triumphed, he stepped back and sent his team out to receive the laurels. Dr Kalam was so deeply affected by this incident that he would often narrate it to public audiences throughout his life – many times even after he became President of India.’

Attractive writing style

I was surprised to read in the epilogue by the author that, except for the story about Satish Dhawan and APJ Abdul Kalam, all characters in the book are fictional! The writing style of Hardyal Singh and his picturisation of the characters are so attractive that I just did not realise this. All the characters were so relatable, and I could feel the way they were put to test in taking decisions to stay with their beliefs, despite trying circumstances.

To quote from the introduction of the book written by Gurcharan Das: ”If moral blindness is part of the human condition, then the big lesson from this book is that it is possible to do the right thing. The moral compass may, indeed, help in navigating through our imperfect world, giving us balance and purpose. The author reminds us again and again that an act of goodness may well be the most valuable thing we possess as human beings.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book!

Check it out on Amazon.

(The reviewer is an entrepreneur and co-founder, Proklean Technologies)  

The Moral Compass: Finding Balance and Purpose in an Imperfect World by Hardayal Singh
Publisher: HarperCollins
Price: ₹399.
Pages: 200.
Published on September 21, 2022
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