Why integrity trumps loyalty

2008-07-30 00:00

Zimbabwe and South Africa are going through watershed times. Although they do so in different ways, the same ethical principle is at stake in both, namely that integrity is more important than loyalty if we want a lastingly good future.

Let us be quite clear about the importance of core values in any enterprise, from family life to sport, business and national affairs. If these are not conducted on the basis of respect, honesty, integrity and real concern for others, things cannot truly prosper. When they are ignored or undermined, cheats, bullies, the greedy and the

violent prosper, feeding off the achievements of others and therefore draining society of its value. This is precisely the difference between a Mandela and a Mugabe, a Churchill and a Hitler, between building on strong ethical values and flouting them.

That is why democracies are so much more successful at generating wellbeing on a sustainable basis than dictatorships. Democracies show respect for all by means of inclusivity, equality and freedom. That evokes the commitment of the citizen, whereas dictators never do. They can get obedience but obedience is far less productive than commitment and is thus a poor way to build a winning nation.

Democracies also thrive by encouraging the responsible use of freedom and thereby opening the quest for truth to all citizens. Since nothing can thrive lastingly on the basis of falsehood, the engines of truth that democracies make possible are clearly vital for the wellbeing we all want.

What this means is that loyalty must be governed by the higher values of integrity, respect and concern for the good of all others. These truths must guide South Africa and Zimbabwe at this crucial time of change. In Zimbabwe it is vital for that country’s recovery that whatever is now agreed, must involve sound moral priorities. Those who have violated morality by means of lies, cheating and brutality must not be rewarded but must be required to make a radical new beginning, as we in the new South Africa did with the leadership of the old apartheid state, or they must be removed from power and any ill-gotten privileges.

To let old loyalties take pre-cedence is to get moral priorities wrong. Loyalty is an important value but like freedom it has important limits because it can easily lead to evil rather than good when it is given blindly to wicked or misguided people or causes.

Turning now to our own country, the same problem of making loyalty our governing value threatens our future. For us, the time after Polokwane offers a valuable opportunity to redirect our nation in ways that will make it more democratic, more just, more truth-loving and much less burdensome for the poor. That is what we all want.

But we will fail if we get our ethical priorities wrong and make a god out of loyalty. Instead, we must proceed on the basis of integrity, which is present when our lives reveal the truthfulness, honest dealing and real concern for the good of others that we say we endorse — when we walk the talk, as the current cliché goes.

The alternative is blind loyalty. That does democracy and the good future we all want no favours. It merely undermines the more important values on which a better future depends.

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