Thought for the Day - Lord Singh

Yesterday’s decision by RBS chief Stephen Hester to forgo his million pound bonus will be welcome to those facing the harsh realities of today’s economic climate. When many are suffering a distinctly reduced standard of living, the thought of others earning rich rewards hurts all the more and questions of fairness come to the fore.

Such concerns are not new. The question of a fair distribution of wealth has exercised religious leaders over the centuries with similar concerns over greed. In Christianity we have Christ’s words about it being easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and in a similar criticism of those who accumulated wealth at the expense of others, Guru Nanak refused the hospitality of a rich man who neglected the wellbeing of those that worked for him.

Today, it is Bank bosses that are the focus of anger and concern. Running a large banking group in a responsible way, that helps both investors and businesses, requires both financial insight and investment expertise. Although such skills are, in my view, not as rare as we are sometimes led to believe, the work is onerous and should be fairly rewarded. Unfortunately, in recent years, this important activity has become entwined with high risk financial gambling for potentially much greater returns for the gamblers, and, when projected profits do not materialise, vast losses for the rest of us.

Capitalism can and has produced vast economic growth, but the lesson of the last few years is that this must be tempered by fairness to others To my mind, the one good thing about the current financial crisis is that it is forcing us to think afresh about the relationship between work and reward, and the differentials between the lower and higher paid, and our common responsibility to the more vulnerable in society.

Sikhism teaches a three fold approach to life, that is, reflecting on our spiritual and social responsibilities and bearing these in mind to earn an honest living and look to the wellbeing of others. Balancing responsibility with opportunity is not easy and requires both individual and corporate discipline. It is not easy to forgo a million pounds and Stephen Hester should be commended for his decision. My hope is that others will follow his lead to make for a fairer and more harmonious society.

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