In a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1992, Bill Clinton said: “Frankly, I am fed up with politicians in Washington lecturing the rest of us about family values. Our families have values. But our government doesn’t”.
On the other hand, we have sociologist Charles Franklin telling us how “under any system of society … the family holds the future in its bosom”.
Herein lies a subtle contestation over a very important matter for our society. Is it possible that families would have values and government doesn’t? The contradiction in this postulation is easily laid bare by the question: where do the people in government come from? One might still counter-argue that virtuous people can be produced by families but end up being corrupted when they get into government.
Yet still, the counter-argument does not survive its attribution to government of a life and agency of its own divorced from the society that produces it. Even if top authority may be held firm by a broken lot (which every society is bound to have), their grip can only be sustained by the connivance of several other accomplices or enabling gaps below. Force alone cannot sufficiently explain this phenomenon.
I am not fully in agreement with the idea that societies get the leaders they deserve; but I do not dismiss the suggestion that in most cases leadership exemplifies the picture below. In some cases, the direction of moral influence could be from up downwards; but in any case, it is the other way round.
Leadership usually takes the stones because, ideally, leaders are expected to show direction – to ‘lead’ the way; sometimes in benevolent ways contrary to the whims of the masses. Where leadership acts in unethical ways, their followers are often likely to delve even deeper into the practices – especially if deemed beneficial, and if the followers are not deeply anchored in virtuousness.
This moral debate seems more complicated when one asks: if a society is morally broken, where do you expect the leaders who can give alternative direction to come from? The simple answer would be; there are always exceptions. Just like societies considered to be mostly upright have their vicious people, even the broken ones have some islands of integrity. No society is entirely broken or entirely upright, it is a matter of degree.
Here still, one may ask: is our society really among the morally broken ones? Let that question be placed alongside these facts. At almost any accident scene on Ugandan highways, there is a thief at hand, ready to scan through pockets of bleeding victims while ‘helping’. Uganda could easily be one of the biggest markets for padlocks and car alarms; but even with eight padlocks on one door, you might not sleep confidently.
Of late, many of us would want to have a perimeter wall erected around our houses, with barbed or electric wires on top. Yet still, you need a dog and security cameras! When one buys a car, the first thing is to apply rivets to anything that can be plucked/unscrewed off and to label lights, window glasses, side mirrors, etc. When you sit in a taxi, you have to constantly watch your bag and pockets. Now, even in church, security cameras have to be installed; plus notices cautioning churchgoers to keep watch over their valuables.
Tales of many Ugandans in diaspora, of experiences with friends and relatives back home that they asked to buy for them property or build are shocking! Some have been fed on pictures of other people’s sites, only to get home after many years of hard labor and find nothing! For the lucky ones, their houses have been built, but at double the price.
When you leave your builder in charge of cement, you are rarely sure it will all be used on your house. Even in our homes, some of us cannot account for little funds. Many families are built on thick layers of lies.
The schools that ask for reams and reams of paper, toilet tissue, building fees for their private property (schools), brooms, on top of ‘school fees’; it is normalized extortion. All around, from the askari to the rotating-chair officer, everyone is asking for ‘tea’ and ‘water’. Many opposition functionaries can also hardly account for the funds they receive from different sources.
Is it realistic to expect that somehow, an upright government will emerge from such a society? We need to go back to the basics, to understand that unless we focus on building integrity, nothing else will work. And, whereas integrity can be shaped by policing and punishing culprits, that approach becomes very expensive if not backed up by measures to groom our children into the kind of people we want in society.
Research by many moral psychologists and philosophers has showed that what becomes of our character in adulthood is mainly shaped in childhood. Hence the saying that you cannot teach old dogs new tactics. In the same vein, Frederick Douglas has counseled that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.
With increasing pressure on parents for making money, many homes are faced with the phenomenon of absentee parents – where much of the moral guidance for home-based children is left to maids. For some children, most of the time is spent at school – which is the more reason why we should put more emphasis on integrity education, especially in primary schools.
Certainly it is not as simple as it may sound, because for such education at home and school to have an impact, it requires a supportive environment in other vital sites for moral influence – such as media and societal examples. It also requires our acknowledgment of the problem in the first place and understanding how it is affecting everything else in the country.
Img Scr: windleuganda.org. This post originally appeared on observer.ug
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