The July 12 issue of The Economist includes an article with an interesting perspective on the rampant corruption and venal behavior practiced by so many who get into positions of political power. In “Because we’re worth it” they speculate on the reasons leaders can present themselves as representing moralistic causes and ethical leadership while simultaneously exhibiting amazing kleptocratic and corrupt practices. How is it that the polity puts up with such hypocrisy?
They propose a number of ideas for why this occurs, my favorite being that citizens expect their officials to be corrupt and mostly out for personal gain rather than the good of the country and so are unsurprised when they act this way. Ultimately the question seems to be “whether the corruptioneers improve the people’s living standards.” If living standards improve, people will put up with a lot of mischief on the part of the leaders.
The article got me thinking about leaders in other organizations and how the same self interested behavior occurs at the expense of everyone else. In the religious realm, the stories are legion of those at the top raking off donations to pay for huge houses, Rolls Royces, and private airplanes while many of those making donations can barely pay the rent. CEOs have become famous for proclaiming how they really do deserve annual compensation in the tens of millions while laying off thousands of employees and cutting the benefits of those who remain.
Power so often leads to an entitlement mentality, a belief that you really are somehow smarter and more deserving than other people. I have nothing against people making lots of money or being richly rewarded for their successful efforts in whatever realm they inhabit. I myself would be happy to have a salary of a few million a year.
What I do find abhorrent is the entitlement mentality, the belief that they deserve more than anyone else, and most despicable is the idea that they never have enough so are willing to do whatever it takes to get more…including actions that violate both law and ethical behavior.
Which brings us to an apposite Turkish proverb shared by the exceptional writer Elif Shafak: “He who holds the honey is bound to lick his fingers.”
Be a good example. Don’t lick your fingers.