Jay Rifenbary

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Corruption - Staining Social Dignity

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As cases of national and statewide political corruption and scandals abound, will there ever be a resurrection of trust in those who claim to serve the people? For the survival of our democratic ideals and free society, I can only hope that ethical leaders will prevail, uphold their stated moral commitment to serving the citizens they represent, and renew that trust. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.” Any corruption, whether in the halls of government, in corporate offices, or in our own home dismantles the very foundation of what defines a respectful and ethical society. Corruption severs personal and professional relationships, destroys confidence in the systems that serve the people, and deteriorates any faith in those who lead those systems.

Several definitions of corruption include, "moral perversion, depravity, perversion of integrity, corrupt or dishonest proceedings, putrefactive decay, rottenness." Although corruption has existed for centuries, it is not an excuse to ignore the consequences of corruptive behavior, nor sit idling while it negatively impacts our economic, political and social norms. The gains that result from corruptive behavior are never gains associated with content of character, integrity, personal honesty or humility. Rather, they are gains associated with greed, power, ego, narcissism, nepotism, self-centeredness and the absence of integrity. Corruptive gains are self-serving, materialistic in nature, short lived and never result in an enduring benefit for a citizenry. As Tacitus states in The Annals of Imperial Rome, “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” Could that be any more accurate today?

Corruption is not just an external public issue to be monitored, but also a private internal evaluation of your own behavior. You are the chief executive and chief operating officer of your life. What are the principles and core values that guide your life's decisions? What are the behaviors that will make your life successful and honorable? Are you vulnerable to the temptation of corruptive behaviors, or solid in the principles that define your character and your legacy? I hope you would acknowledge and desire the latter.

There is also a direct relationship between corruption and the presence or non-presence of accountability in a society. As excuses and the blame game dominate the social mindset, corruption will only become more prevalent, and become the norm rather than the exception. Why? The less accountability there is, the greater the odds for fewer consequences for unscrupulous behavior. The fewer the consequences, the more tempting corrupt behavior becomes. A cousin to corruption is exploitation. To exploit is, "to use selfishly for ones own ends." Where there is corruption there is exploitation, and a partnership that has historically wreaked havoc on societies on a global scale.

As a leader in your own life, and the lives of others, what example are you setting as it pertains to accountability, and ethical behavior? Do your behaviors align with values associated with living a principled, respectful, decent and dignified life? Do your actions generate goodness, or harm to yourself and those around you? What lessons do our children learn when corruption is sensationalized, and used as leverage for gaining profit and power? One lesson learned is integrity, ethical conduct, and decency is irrelevant to living a fulfilled and purposeful life. How sad is that? As former Indian President Abdul Kalam said, “If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.”

As a citizen, parent, community leader, or any other position of influence you may hold, it is imperative to take a stand for what is right and ethical. To set an example of integrity, honesty, thoughtfulness and decency is the antithesis of corruption. You will honor yourself, your community and most importantly your family when that example is exhibited. The "Golden Rule" of treating others, as you would want to be treated, remains a cornerstone in evaluating your personal and professional character. Make each day a golden day.



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