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Our Path to Moral Excellence

14 January 2013, 12:02

The public outcry over moral decay is getting louder by the day. Custodians of society are leading the chant that our society had lost its moral compass and that we are straying on the edge of a moral abyss. The most vocal in the public outbursts are theologians, academics, politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers and the press.

Increasing public violence, strike action, rebellion, greed, corruption, brutality, power and drug abuse, nepotism, negligence and service failure, are reasons for the public outbursts.  Our investigating authorities and courts are suffocating under caseloads and our prisons are crowded beyond capacity and under threat. Altruism and reliance on charity, pity, drugs and gambling, the enemies of responsibility, self-reliance and a free economy, are dominant forces driven by social grants that exhaust a dominant portion of the national budget. Admittance to universities of their choice had become impossible for young people because of capacity constraints, fees and admittance requirements. Thousands can’t get access and are destined to scout and roam the fields of despair. Our roads and hospitals are imploding putting the lives of people at risk.

Idealists and critics of public leadership are clamoring for moral excellence. Some are advocating practical policies for creating living conditions that directly influence moral choices. A group of business leaders have asked the African National Congress to "straighten up and fly right". Practitioners of accountability best practice suggest that we adopt a moral compass, promote it and uphold its values. The first step in a campaign to improve the moral climate of the nation would be to distribute products, services, letterheads, stamps and even advertisements bearing a topical SA moral compass.

The challenge is clear. We must design, build, implement, popularize and reinforce a moral code for a sustainable civilized society. “A civilized society is one in which physical force is banned from human relationships and where every person has the right to the pursuit of happiness”. In a civilized society the people are protected against criminals and the unlimited and unrestricted powers of government. “When unlimited and unrestricted by individual rights, a government is man’s deadliest enemy.”

We can accept that cleansing rituals, vigils and prayers will influence moral sensitivity, but we must accept that spiritual events alone will not secure the integrity, elegance and respect needed for a sustainable civilized society. We need a moral code that will guide us in a stormy and changing continent. The best run organizations in the world are guided by moral codes. Samsung Electronics, a global manufacturing giant, is steered by five values. Guarding integrity is one of them: “Everything we do is guided by a moral compass that ensures fairness, respect for all stakeholders and complete transparency”. Apple Computer, the most valuable company in the world, declared in their value code: “We will not compromise our ethics or integrity in the name of profit”

The core lean values that guide one’s moral conscience and behavior under all conditions must be found. They must apply irrespective of race, ethnicity, age, language, gender or religion. There are many values, virtues, rights, principles, ethics and rules contained or implied in the constitution, bill of rights, laws, customs, codes, rules, religions and traditions of our society. The pure and resilient ones must be extracted, integrated and polished. They must be offered to the public as a moral diamond in a popular and easily accessible publication and program that will secure public understanding, acceptance, respect and compliance.

A deep and broad-based understanding of moral excellence and the key characteristics of a sustainable civilized society must be built up before the behaviors, structures and systems of a civilized society will take form and flourish. The road to a sustainable civilized society will be filled with challenges to conquer.

One of the first challenges would be to identify the critical characteristics and measures of a sustainable civilized society and the behaviors that inspire it, or prevent its development or cause its destruction. These characteristics and behaviors inform the structure of a guiding vision and the moral compass for the future. It is good to set a goal for the number of jobs to be created or people to be employed by 2030, but it cannot be our overarching, guiding vision. Our vision must be a sustainable civilized society in the rising Africa and changing world.

The second challenge would be to leverage the enthusiasm for further education and training of the youth with successful ways to educate, develop and absorb them in the economy. We must create and sustain the competitive workforce of the future. The third challenge would be to find processes that will ignite ambition, responsibility, self-reliance and self-respect in the poor, defeated, shamed and dependent. Moral codes have no value amidst human decay and people who have a victim mentality. The fourth challenge would be to inspire and maximize innovation and employee engagement in all our organizations and industries to improve our international competitiveness. The fifth major challenge would be to erase the cancerous and discriminative inequalities, memories, laws and policies of colonialism, apartheid and post-apartheid. Conditions and practices that destroy personal dignity, ambition and courage, like shacks, compounds, tree schools, hate speech and race and gender discrimination must be visibly erased. Every citizen of South Africa must experience the warmth, excitement and empowerment of patriotism and inclusive membership of team South Africa building a sustainable civilized society. 

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