Ethics III

Delhi Law Academy


•            Each individual plays various roles in society. The role played by them defines the relations with others. Every day, we play different roles {father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, teacher, student, doctor, leader, businessman, fried, foe, worker, employer, colleagues and so on}. Each of these roles carries expected behaviour called “norms”.

•            The roles define relationships such as marriage, family, friendship, kinship in private sphere of life and teacher-student, doctor-patient, leader-followers, author-reader, employee-employer etc. in public life.

Private Relationships

•            Each private and personal relationship has its own irreplaceable value. Each of it has its own unique history, character, and set of implicit and explicit understandings about what is to be expected of the parties to it. The governing factors for ethics in private relationships include individual virtues, universal human values, religion, social norms and law.

Public Relationships

•            Public relationships are governed by many aspects. They may or may not be inherited. Many a times, they comprise complex situations, contradictory values and conflict of role and interest.

Difference between Private and Public Relationships

•            The private relations are obviously more intimate than public relations. They are generally inherited, relatively permanent; accommodate more tolerance for imperfections, and are full with expectations of love and affection.

•            In contrast, public relations may or may not be inherited, are often temporary; with people who are different from us or even strangers, are likely to be instrumental, engaged in due to mutual benefits (quid pro quid), full with expectation of respect, and accountability and are guarded.

Ethics for different types of relationship

Public relationship:

Openness: Public relationships require transparency in their dealings. All parties are expected to provide complete information on all matters to each other for the sake of fairness. Openness also increases confidence of parties in each other. For instance, companies are expected to publish their annual reports with all their financial details for the shareholders.

Honesty and integrity: It is expected that true information will be provided in public dealings without any errors or deception. Parties are also expected to remain true to their word and not break promises. For instance, in politics, promises given by politicians to people or other politicians must be kept or otherwise, they lose their credibility.

Respect: Due respect and courtesy is expected in public relationships in accordance with conventions, code of conduct For example, we should behave politely and respectfully with our neighbours, strangers on the road etc. in order to ensure a stable and harmonious social order.

Rule of law: Parties in a public relationship must mutually abide by the law of the land and conduct their dealings accordingly. Rule of law is necessary to ensure equality and fairness among different entities and also to ensure justice in case of wrongdoing. For example, relationship between a consumer and seller is regulated by the Consumer Protection Act 1986.

Equality and uniformity: In public relationships, one must treat everyone equally and uniformly. This is necessary to ensure a level playing field, fair competition, quality service etc. For example, civil servants must treat all individuals equally irrespective of their caste, class, religion etc.

Accountability: In public dealings, we must hold ourselves accountable with same standards as we expect from others. Accountability is essential to enforcing the norms of public relationships. People want their administrators, politicians, industries to be accountable to them.

Private relationship:

Love and care: These emotions are the bedrock of private relationships and also sustain them. Such relationships are not driven by rules or quid pro quo but by human emotions. For instance, one can always find family by their side regardless of the circumstances.

Confidentiality: Private relations require secrecy and privacy, as opposed to public relationships. It is required to maintain sanctity of the relationship. For example, politicians in India shy away from disclosing their personal lives to the public and keep it separate from professional life.

Truthfulness: Private relations are based upon truth and trust. Since there are no rules and regulations, trust matters the most. Trust also strengthens the bonds in private relationships. For instance, husband and wife expect each other to be truthful to each other above all else.

Responsibility: Our private life often creates responsibility for us towards different people. This is because people have some emotional or practical expectations from each other. For example, spouses, friends expect certain kinds of behaviour from each other. In some private relationships, there are social responsibilities which must be fulfilled. For instance, parents are responsible for the upbringing of their children.

Perseverance: We must ensure stability and harmony in our private relations. This often requires persistent effort by both parties during the times of discord. For instance, spouses often get into fights after which they are expected to cooperate to preserve the relationship.

Comparison of Ethics in Public and Private relationship

Separation of public and private relationships:

Reasons for separation

Firstly, private and public relationships are conducted in very different ways and hence, must be treated separately so that one can behave as per the context.

Secondly, both public and private relationships must remain unaffected by the problems of the other. Private problems should not affect performance in public sphere. For instance, people expect public servants to be at their best regardless of problems in their private lives.Ups and downs in public relationships should not affect our behaviour in personal life. For instance, a police officer’s work situation must not affect his behaviour at home.

Thirdly, mixing the two kinds of relationships often leads to certain problems. Entry of private relationships in public sphere leads to nepotism and favouritism. Entry of public relationships in private sphere undermine the sanctity, privacy and intimacy of private life. For instance, Mahabharata- conflict took place because Dhritrashtra mixed his public and private relationships. He let private relationship with his son affect his public decision making when he wanted his son to be the king despite being unworthy.

Fourthly, society tends to judge people separately in their public and private sphere, and hence it’s better to keep them separate. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi is respected as the ‘Father of the Nation’ but he is not judged for his troubled relationship with his own son.

Fifthly, keeping public and private relationships separate helps in preventing conflicts of interest. For instance, Ranjit Sinha, former CBI chief, met accused in a case at his residence (due to personal relations) and his integrity was questioned. This could have been avoided by separating public and private relationships.

Sixthly, sometimes public relationships are so complicated and intense in nature that they cannot be mixed with private relationships so as to maintain sanctity of private life. For example, politicians often keep their private lives separate from public as their public life is heavily scrutinised and criticized.

Problems with separation

Not feasible: Public and private relationships often naturally overlap and mix with each other and hence, cannot be kept separate. For instance, the President of USA and his wife, the First Lady, are also in a crucial public relationship. Family life and married life of politicians is publicly discussed in USA.

Not desirable: Rigid separation between public and private relationships might become counter-productive. The two types of relationships can be used to enrich each other. For instance, support from family and friends help people to excel professionally. Friends at workplace help people in staying motivated and satisfied.

Not manageable: Treating public and private relationships differently may create confusion and mental stress for individuals. For instance, police officers who behave differently at work and home (toughly and nicely respectively) might face confusion and feel like hypocrites.

Not separable: Some values and ethics are common to both public and private relationships and hence, both kinds of relations require similar behaviour. For example, honesty and politeness is desirable in both family and workplace.

Effect of public relationships on private relationships


Inspiration: Experiences from our public lives often become a lesson for private lives and inspire us to improve our behaviour. For instance, workshops on gender equality at workplace inspire husbands to behave better with their wives at home.

Value: Harsh realities of public relationships (such as give and take, insensitivity) make us realize the value of our private relations and the emotional support they provide us. For example, deceit by colleagues often make people realize the innocence and greatness of their friends and family.

Humane: Ethics of private relationships like love and care can be used to make public relationships more human and compassionate. For example, a District Collector who is loving and caring in personal life is also likely to show compassion towards poor and needy in his official role.


Spill over: When people are too preoccupied with the public, they continue the same type of behaviour in their private space. For instance, criminals or anti-social elements show violent and harsh behaviour even at home.

Time management: Excess involvement in public life often forces people to cut time from their private lives, which adversely affects their private relationships.

Effect of private relationships on public relationships


Interpersonal relations: Private relationships teach people values such as love, care, empathy etc. which they can replicate in their public relationships for enhancing their quality. For example, studies by psychologists like Douglas McGregor have shown that trust, confidence, politeness etc. by managers enhances the motivation of their subordinates.

Positive mood: Smooth and happy private relations give satisfaction to people because of which they can behave better in their public relations as well. This is the logic behind the saying ‘Happy wife, happy life’.


Stress: Tension in private relationships with friends, family, spouse etc. lead to stress and adversely affect behaviour in public sphere. Healthy private relationships are a basic need which must be fulfilled in order to have good public relationships. For example, because of this logic, companies provide holiday packages for their workers and families so that their family life remains healthy.

Prejudice: Experiences in private relations often penetrate into public sphere. For instance, when our friends belonging to a particular community behaves in a particular way, we develop a stereotype about that entire community.

Common ethics in public and private relationships

Honesty: Both kinds of relationships expect truthful behaviour without which there is loss of trust and confidence. For example, both marriage as well as superior-subordinate relationships require loyalty

Interpersonal factors: Both relationships are not mechanical but involve interpersonal behaviour. Therefore, both require individuals to have basic sensitivity, empathy, care etc. so that both parties understand each other better. For example, many business have started providing sensitivity training (T-Group training) to their employees so as to improve interpersonal relations.

Accountability: We are held responsible for our behaviour in both relationships. We must answer and account for our actions to maintain trust and confidence. For example, people are expected to account for their financial decisions both in household and workplace.

Compassion: Helping others is a good deed which is desirable in both public and private relationships. For instance, people help not only their own family members but also colleagues, neighbours etc.

Need for Balance:

Relationships are very important in our lives and hence, we must take care to act in a proper manner. There are different ethics of behaving in public and private relationships respectively. They ensure that the relationships are sustained smoothly.

It is common practice to deal with private and public relationships separately as the two require different types of behaviour. However, deeper analysis shows that while the two are different, there are some common elements. Some values are commonly needed in both public and private relationships.

Therefore, one must have the wisdom and ingenuity to strike a balance. While public and private relationships are to be seen differently, one should not see them under water tight compartments. We must understand how they affect each other and how one can be used to enrich the other. We must also realize that certain fundamental values are to be commonly shown both in public as well as private relationships. It will be helpful if we see the ethics of public and private relationships in a continuum rather than water tight compartments.

Conflict of Role for a Public Servant

•            At times, Public servants play conflicting role due to conflict in private life and public life. The private relationships demand individual’s responsibilities towards the role played in private life such as father, mother, husband, etc.

•            These are self-imposed and voluntary and are backed by sanctions of one’s obligations towards self, family and society since ancient times. For example, in our country, the Dharmashshtras provide moral codes to regulate the private relations.

•            However, in public relationships, the public servant needs to cope with several roles altogether. This includes – role in private life, role in personal and family sphere, role as a professional, role for job, role towards his / her area of jurisdiction, role towards seniors and society / humanity at large.

•            The public service role invokes legal and constitutional obligations, which when violated invite legal sanctions and penalties. Thus, a public servant needs to cope with these different roles which many a times conflict with each other.

•            The question is – how to survive while playing such conflicting roles? The key to this is “personal integrity”. Personal integrity is simply taking a sincere and ethical stand.  It also serves as a building block of public confidence and to establish a trust in society.

Ethical Claims and Managing Ethics in Public Service

•            According to Dwight and Waldo, there are 12 areas of ethical claim on public officials. These are as under:

  1. Constitution
  2. Law
  3. Nation
  4. Country or people
  5. Democracy
  6. Organization-Bureaucratic norms
  7. Profession and professionalism
  8. Family and friends
  9. Self, middle range, collectivises, such as class, race, union, interest group, and church.
  10. Public interest and general welfare
  11. Humanity
  12. Religion or God

•            Similarly, the OECD countries publish a set of core values to guide public servants. These core values include impartiality, legality, integrity, transparency, efficiency, equality, responsibility and justice.

•            This apart, Nolan, in his famous report of Committee of standards of Public life in Britain gave seven basic principles for public servants viz. Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness; Honesty and Leadership.

Conflicts of Interest

•            Conflict of Interest refers to a situation in which the concerns or aims of two different individual / parties are incompatible. In other way, it is a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.

•            There are two levels of arise of conflict of interest viz. Organisational conflicts of interest; and Personal conflicts of interest.

•            When a person is not able to render impartial service because of relationships or other activities, it is called organizational conflict of interest.

•            When a person is not able to render impartial service because of his / her own private interests, it is called personal conflict of interest.

•            When one is confused between ethical issues in private and public relationships, the personal conflict of interest is bound to arise. A public servant must also endeavour to avoid conflict of interest by avoiding situations where he / she either benefits personally.

•            Ideally, the private and public relationships—should be separate. However, practically it is not possible. The public office holders do have private lives, which are driven by whole gamut of emotions and other factors.