Natural disasters are notorious for two things – one, unleashing an era of human suffering and two, putting the moral compass and learning effectiveness of the ruling elite and the state under the microscope! In the recent floods hitting vast swathes of Pakistan, the former was unfortunately on ample display, and the latter was repeatedly showcased by the esteemed custodians of people’s fortune (read: misfortune!) Therefore, consider the following hypothesis, which argues that a lack of a moral compass and almost 0 per cent learning effectiveness exacerbated an already catastrophic natural disaster to the point of reckless human tragedy! First, cue the photo-op brigade and PR geniuses! Bilawal Bhutto and Shahbaz Sharif distributing food (throwing out aimlessly, rather) from a helicopter, once the cameras start to roll. Mahmood Khan waving back pointlessly from the confines of his chopper to the suffering masses below who were begging for help and food. Manzoor Wassan touring the flooded areas in Khairpur and fondly reminiscing about paddling the tranquil canals of Venice in a gondola. Agha Siraj Durrani shunning with extreme disgust the very people he claimed to have come to help. Maryam Nawaz hugging affectees only to update her Twitter account with the latest photograph. Cheap showbiz stunts? Many! Meaningful and courageous acts of leadership and morality? Zero! Dr Denis Waitley, in his perennial self-improvement program, “Psychology of Winning,” suggests that true winners in life are accidentally caught in the act of winning by the media. They don’t conjure up instances where first, the media is present, and only then, an act of kindness is committed. This is because morally upright winners “plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit.” Keeping this in mind, how many of our leaders make the cut as true winners in life and great role models? True winners in life don’t conjure up instances where first, the media is present, and only then, an act of kindness is committed. Second, we must remember that a moral compass has to be underpinned by values. No universal values to speak of, no moral compass to harp about! I have written previously that values are the rules by which we, as individuals and as societies, make a judgement about right and wrong, good and bad, and should or shouldn’t. These are a deep-rooted system of beliefs that guide personal decisions and collective direction and influence general behaviour. They also allow us to choose between two competing values if and when a need arises to do so. For example, a person who values friendship will sacrifice workout time, which may be important as the individual values a healthy lifestyle, to help out a friend in need. Morals are decisions that society takes to gauge whether an act is good or bad based on personal or collective values. It is a widespread motivation based on the idea of good and bad, and as such, morals project values onto society and tend to have very wide acceptance. That is why we judge others more acutely on morals than values. For example, the value of honesty is judged “good” in someone who adheres to it and thinks cheating is bad, in contrast with someone who values success more than honesty and believes cheating is fine. Ethics are similar to morals, but they differ in one key way. While morals are the feeling of “good or bad,” ethics clearly regulate which deeds are “right or wrong.” In that way, ethics can be deemed as the codification of morals into a specific system and adopted by the majority. For example, doctors have medical ethics, and lawyers have legal ethics. Thus, one can have professional ethics but rarely professional morals. Acknowledging this paradigm, is there any wonder that the privileged in our society particularly lack any sort of moral compass? Third, 0 per cent learning effectiveness may seem innocuous and irrelevant in this scenario, but not when one considers the ramifications of such a mess up! As a working definition, learning effectiveness can be defined as the degree to which learning outcomes – statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning – are achieved with integrity and purpose. Relevance to the discussion at hand? A civil engineer with almost 0 per cent learning effectiveness, who has to approve the safety of a dam or a bridge. A commercial airline pilot with almost 0 per cent learning effectiveness, who has to ensure the wellbeing of the manifest from origin to destination. A mechanical engineer with almost 0 per cent learning effectiveness, who has to authorise efficient train tracks. A building inspector with almost 0 per cent learning effectiveness, who has to approve buildings as fit for purpose. The list is long and scary! Even Western countries don’t claim 100 per cent learning effectiveness, but enough to ensure that natural disasters do not turn into human tragedies of epic proportions every time. While it is true that nations should come together in the short term to fight any catastrophe and it is good to see mass public mobilisation now in doing so, it is equally true that setting up a true moral compass underpinned by correct values and ensuring sufficient learning effectiveness can do much to curtail, or at least, minimise the impact of any future natural or man-made disasters. The question: which of our camera-loving leaders can roll the ball on that journey? The sad answer: not many! The writer is Director Programmes for an international ICT organization based in the UK and writes on corporate strategy, socio-economic and geopolitical issues.