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Friday, August 15, 2014

The gift of choosing the moral path

In reading some online newspapers last week, a number of disturbing facts caught my eye: a district administrator was arrested on suspicion of accepting gifts for special services that never materialized; a school principal was accused of attempted manipulation of school success rates, with a sizeable amount of money involved; a minister of Social Affairs acted as Santa Claus by granting gifts to social institutions on his birthday (not from his own wallet, but from his formal representation budget) to boost his popularity; governmental institutions are scrutinized on suspicion of corruptive actions, and a sizable part of society distrusts its political representatives and government as well as government subsidized entities.  

Corruption is a social disease that is easy to lapse into. The reason for that is also easy to see through: if everyone does it, it does not feel so corrupt anymore. Corruption particularly manifests itself in trade and politics, and with that, it has almost grown into a rule rather than an exception in many governmental branches throughout the world. There is a wide range of motives leading to corruptive actions, from safeguarding of power and influence to bypassing unwelcome rules and regulations, and from accelerating processes to paving a fast road toward affluence or power.

The common factor driving business and politics is their heavy transactional orientation. In the simplest possible wording it boils down to this: I'll give you this if you give me that. And then you may go ahead and substitute any situation you wish: “I give you the title on this piece of land if you ensure a nice sum of greasing money under the table,” “I will get you a meeting with the big boss if you want to pay the price to be moved up,” “I will speed up the processing of your documents if you speed up my wealth”, or “I will refrain from punishing you for your actions and look the other way if you want to look into my bank account”.

As you can tell, corruption usually appears in the form of a reward or punishment avoidance, but there is always a gift involved, mostly in the form of money, power, or prestige. Whatever it is that drives people to corruption, the phenomenon remains one of the weak links in our civilization, and it is hard to imagine a human society that is void of it.  That, too, is understandable: where different people come together, you will find different characters and motivations, as well as different levels of ethical reasoning. And it is a fact that you can alert people about ethics, but you cannot really teach them moral values, because moral values are strongly linked to the culture and structure of the society in which we live and perform.

No society on earth is free from corruption, but in some it is just more obvious than others. It often coincides with local economies and existing inequalities. When large groups of people feel oppressed due to economic struggles, and when leaders are continuously engaging in unethical practices, corruption will find a fertile ground.

It’s true, there are quite some weak spots in human civilization, and corruption is one of the most striking examples. And you know what? Chances are that each of us has engaged in corruptive behavior at least once, albeit more out of necessity than desire. Unfortunately, there is no rosy endnote here, other than that each of us should think critically about our conduct, and evaluate whether the steps we are about to take will be worth disrupting our emotional stability. Once we have made up our mind, we should do as we decide, and accept the consequences. And that's all I have to say about that.

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