Corruption: It’s in our Heart

“The eye never forgets what the eye has seen.” – African proverb

“We made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over,” James Baldwin wrote with uncommon simplicity as he contemplated the illusions we wrap around ourselves regardingt the themes and events of life. One of such is corruption in our society. We lament a lot about it, yet we created it. Corruption did not magically appear from nowhere. It comes from within us, and it is actually an attitude we consciously perpetuate. Thus, it almost sounds comical when we turn around and talk about fighting it. That is like we hiding behind a mask to fight ourselves. We should take a class from Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese poet and philosopher’s stirring reflections on “the seeming self versus the appearing self” to understand the circles we are going round in.

Maybe, just maybe, we have realised our flaws and really want to do away with corruption; but have we asked whether what we are doing about it is actually working? Is our insistence on following procedure, and carrying out rules meticulously, positively impacting our fight against corruption? While the proponents of anti-corruption initiatives generate reports that validate the monies spent on awareness campaigns, the reality is obviously something different. We need to ask ourselves why all the knowledge and awareness is not changing the core behaviour of intended recipients. The answer lies in the fundamentals of human behaviour: “knowledge does not change behaviour, experience does”.

As a nation, our experience of corruption is fairly destructive. It continues to slow our developmental agenda. But as individuals, our experience of corruption is excitingly favourable. We get kicks from it and so we perpetuate it. And when we understand that our individual efforts contribute to the whole, we can appreciate why we are not making headway with our fight against corruption. Taking a cue from the great German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt’s notion of appearing as central to our experience of being, we can appreciate that corruption would not be thriving if we do not desire it, approve of it and actually engage in it.

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She argued that “the worldliness of living things means that there is no subject that is not also an object and appears as such to somebody else, who guarantees its “objective” reality. What we usually call “consciousness”, the fact that I am aware of myself and therefore in a sense can appear to myself, will never suffice to guarantee reality… Seen from the perspective of the world, every creature born into it arrives well-equipped to deal with a world in which being and appearing coincide; they are fit for worldly existence.” We are so obsessed with our appearance, to the detriment of our being. We assess individuals by how good they look instead of the sort of persons they are.

This is the reason why we take great pains to project appropriate external images wherever we are.  We express this in the way we spend so much time and money on our appearance. We buy expensive clothes, obtain degrees and diplomas – not so much because we want to use them to solve problems, but because they open doors for us. We would rather be hypocrites than to be unwelcome in any gathering. That is not to say our appearance is unimportant. No. It is that we have given it a greater weighting in relation to our being, and it is affecting us negatively. Christian scripture puts it beautifully with these words: “You hypocrites! You who clean the outside of a cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance”.

Our preference for appearance over being is what fuels our illusion about corruption. We visualise it as a tumour that can be cut off from us. Thus, our policies and programmes are designed to mimic a physician undertaking surgery. How wrong we are. Corruption continues to thrive because our hearts are in it. We treat it like a windfall. It is like discovering treasure in an open field. We need the cover of the night to access it. And so we treat corruption like it is our own child that needs taking care of. We feel so devoted and protective about it that we have actually come to love it, and look forward to participating in it. We allow in corruption to thrive every time we engage people based on their appearance instead of their being.

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We cannot win the fight against corruption if we do not purify our hearts. Just because we cannot see the heart does not mean we cannot find out what it desires. Indeed, Jesus Christ taught that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person”.

Why then do we concentrate our efforts on the outer appearance of people? We should focus on the being of individuals and question their intentions till their actions are undertaken for the greater good of all. We need to institute measures that focus on frequently “cleaning the inside of our cups”, so that individuals will appreciate they have to work with a purity of intention…

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Kodwo Brumpon is a management consultant and a life coach who inspires individuals, groups and corporate bodies to think and feel that which is true, and helps them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at kodwobrumpon@gmail.com

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