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EditorialEditorial : The Seeds of Corruption


If one were to ponder on the one problem that is gnawing at the entrails of society today, the answer would probably be corruption.It is so deep-rooted a problem that we do not even see it as one. Instead we have accepted it as a part of our lives. We consider corruption as something we have to accommodate if we are to live comfortably. Rather than solving this problem, we have become part of the problem. We help corruption grow, secretly hoping that others would not mind us also being corrupt. We become partners in crime. These are just truisms. The question to be asked here is: ‘Why does one become corrupt?’


Killing a person is wrong and illegal. All of us know that and so generally we do not kill anyone. Similar is the case with other actions we know to be outright bad. But what is it about corruption that makes us live with it? All of us know that it is not something to be proud of, and yet the number of corrupt people is alarming. When does one become corrupt? When one forgets the duties that one has professed to do, the duties that one has consciously and willingly accepted to do. A teacher agrees to teach, a doctor agrees to heal, a police officer agrees to protect, and so on. If one does not do what she or he has agreed to do on taking up a particular assignment, there begins corruption and that person starts becoming corrupt. Corruption is also caused by being untruthful. If a person has done something wrong and wants to evade punishment, that person joins hands with like-minded people and hides the wrongdoing. This leads to accepting things, which otherwise would have been unacceptable. Here again are sown the seeds of corruption.


Why is it that some societies have a stronger tendency towards corruption than others? The answer to this question lies in the cultural patterns of a society. A child sees adults engaging in activities that the child is taught are bad. However, the child sees that these adults have ways to cover up their wrongdoings, sometimes making even the child an accomplice or a silent witness. This ingrains in the mind of the child the belief that wrongdoings are all right, as long as you can properly cover them up!


There is another important cause of corruption. Human beings, like other living beings, have a primitive instinct, which ensures survival and excellence in the race of evolution. If a person runs on sensing a danger to life, that is because of the primitive tendency in the lower part of the brain. The same is the case with other instincts such as the search for food. So, when a person sees that a given task can be accomplished by some shortcut means, and does not foresee any apparent bad consequences, that person goes ahead and takes the shortcut. That is one of the ways that corruption is born.


The other primitive feature of the brain of human beings that leads to corruption is herd mentality. In their initial days of fighting against nature for survival, human beings learnt to imitate the behaviour of one another to ensure that one did not face the same dangers that their fellow beings had already suffered from. Evolution has not been able to completely erase this herd mentality and so, when a person sees that being corrupt makes one ‘safe’, she or he becomes corrupt and avoids being on the wrong side or on the side of fewer persons.


Parenting is an integral part of the development of an individual. Some parents reward their children for doing things they were supposed to do anyway. While on the one hand a child is taught ethical values, on the other she or he sees that adults, sometimes even teachers, indulge in corrupt or unethical acts. This trains the child to see ethical values as the right things to teach or proclaim, and at the same time to accept corrupt actions as not so wrong if the situation so demands. If a child does her or his homework or studies for an examination, some parents reward the child with leisure time, a treat, a movie, or some such thing. The child can get the idea that one could get a reward for doing something that one was supposed to do in the first place. Rewarding a child for standing first in an examination is understandable, but rewarding for just studying defies explanation. Such encouragement could lead to the child grow up to become an official, who demands a bribe for doing a job, for which she or he receives a salary. If only a child could be shown by example, that by doing one’s duties without receiving any additional benefit and by being chastised or punished on failure, she or he could develop into a responsible individual.


An essential element of character that ought to be taught to children is to take ownership of their actions, and to take responsibility for what they do. This emboldens an individual to face the consequences of one’s actions and also inspires one to act rationally and responsibly, after weighing all the choices and the probable results of actions. Conversely, when a child learns from the actions of her or his parents that responsibilities could be shied away from, she or he grows into an individual who is wary of accepting any outcome of one’s actions.


Success in life has been shown to be of paramount importance by educational systems around the world. People will go to any extent to achieve success. If success can be achieved by ‘helping’ the right people in the right places, what is the harm, asks the common person. The hunger for power and the greed for wealth drives a person to corruption, particularly when one thinks that such power and wealth cannot be attained through ethical means. Generally such a thought arises because one does not want to strive to attain the desired goal. A lack of struggle translates into a lack of skill and one tries to make up for this deficiency by coming to some ‘agreement’ with others for ignoring the absence of skill. This is another seed of corruption.


The root cause of corruption is the deflection from one’s true goal of self-realization. Such deflection makes us corrupt and takes us away from the path to perfection. In the graphic language of Acharya Shankara in Vivekachudamani, it is like the bouncing of a ball down a staircase. On the first bounce, the ball falls down two steps, four steps on the second, eight steps on the third, and so on. Similarly, when we get deflected from our goal of self-realization, we keep on committing mistakes, not in arithmetic but geometric progression. Before we realize it, we are already laden with the weight of a humongous mass of wrongs. The only way to be free of corruption is to understand that success, in the ordinary sense, is not the goal of life. Our goal is self-realization. Material success can be attained through ethical means. Together, these two convictions will help us conquer the lure of corruption. We need to burn the seeds of corruption and ensure that this venomous serpent does not raise its hood and strike at the peace and balance of a healthy society.


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