The Golden Rule
Last time I suggested that Britain is in a much worse situation for corruption than Asian countries such as Bangladesh for 2 main reasons. In this article I’ll tell you how I think our form of corruption and our acceptance of it puts us in danger of never changing ourselves for the better.
First is the form. In Bangladesh, despite bribes being illegal, you could claim that actually they are a better form of wage. It is well established that those taking bribes are often at the bottom of the pile and are not paid enough. It is one of the reasons corruption is so difficult to stamp out. To do so you need to increase wages substantially and there just isn’t enough money to go around. At least in theory.
But the idea of bribes being corrupt is also, in some respects, rather a western preoccupation. It can be argued that actually this is a form of ‘gifting’ that enables you to enter into a relationship with the other person. Rather than just giving your cash to the faceless and characterless official to receive whatever you are buying, you are giving a gift to your brother and fellow man (less often a woman in Bangladesh) and saying, in effect, “I see you. I thank you in a real and sacrificial way for you work. I acknowledge you are important.”
In a hierarchical society like Bangladesh, this statement is very important. But in Britain this is not acceptable. So we legalise it instead. The examples I gave are just like this. Completely legal. I had no obligation to park where I parked and none to eat where I ate. But in doing so I was bounded by rules that made me pay 25 times what a normal 2 hour parking ticket would be for 10 minutes extra and made my daughter into an adult diner. There is only one reason to do this – to make extra money. Surely that is just another form of corruption?
The second difference – acceptance – is the more insidious. The Brits like rules. We play by them. We believe that fair play will solve all ills. We also like to break them and, if we’re not caught, believe it is fair game. We love nothing better though, than when we find out other people have been caught breaking them. Look at all the newspapers – they are filled with stories of people being caught breaking the rules – either the law or the few moral values we still have left here. I suspect some of you will have read the events I described and thought “sorry but you had a choice and you got caught – the rules are the rules – deal with it and stop making a fuss”. That’s our British way.
And it’s wrong.
It’s one of the main reasons we were lost India and our empire collapsed – though please do not see this an implicit approval of the British Raj. Even we, eventually, had to realise that ignoring the needs and wishes of a different culture because they did not fit with our conception of what was “in the rules” was wrong. Once we really understood that we pulled out – in the end – but for decades we basically told Indians “I’m sorry but the rules are the rules – deal with it”.
We do this to ourselves now instead of to others and punish those who are weaker. But the attitude has remained the same. Those in power get to make the rules and we accept them – no matter how wrong they are.
Bangladesh shows the way
Ironically, it is one small article written a few years ago in a Bangla newspaper that gives me the hope that Bangladesh will claw its way out of corruption and show the rest of the world how to do it.
The writer talked about how no one in the country wants corruption and how the nation continues to shout about the corruption amongst the government and the officials. But then the writer did a very noble thing.
He turned the argument in against himself.
He pointed out that when he next gets stopped for speeding by the police he will pay the 1000 taka (about £10) to make it go away and he acknowledged that whilst he does that corruption will always continue. For corruption to end, he wrote, he has to end his part of it. I believe he is right and praise him for his honesty.
If we want to stop corruption in any society then I believe it begins with us. Instead of looking to those ‘above’ us we need to stop ‘cheating the system’ and if we are bosses, in management or any way responsible for others, we need to go further than the ‘rules’ to make sure what is fair takes place rather than what is ‘by the rule book’.
In British law there is something called the Literal Rule. This is where a judge gives words of laws their ‘plain, ordinary or literal meaning’ even when the result is absurd or leads to injustice. This has actually happened on more than one occasion. To balance it there is a Golden Rule where judges can give a more appropriate meaning if the Literal Rule leads to such absurdities.
In Britain I don’t think, as a society, we have learned to apply the Golden Rule in life. Until we do, those in power will always use the rules to ‘get away with it’. But if a Bangladeshi can say “corruption starts with me and ends only if I change my behaviour” I think we have the kernel of a revolution that could change how the whole world thinks.
I can’t see it beginning in the West – certainly not Britain. We still think we’re in the right far too much. But the murmurings are there in India and in Bangladesh. People are talking about it and ready to acknowledge they need to change. I think – and hope – it is only a matter of time.