Let me use a few examples. Why can one individual not feel obliged to pick up litter he/she sees lying on the path they walking on but another does? Why can one person find nothing wrong in not greeting but another sees this as essential when making eye contact with someone else? Why is coming late considered fashionable by some but a no-no in the minds of others? Why are some people happy to be lazy but take their salaries with glee and others seek to earn each cent of their pay packet? What makes some respect the law and others flout it? Why can some show remorse and others struggle to accept wrongdoing? What defines honorable to some and dishonorable to others?
How we find common ground to keep us moving forward makes our journey such a diversified experience. I raise this in the light of the current events in South Africa. As citizenry, we are all taking up positions around the recent Constitutional Court judgement on the behaviour of our president and national parliament around the Nkandla saga. Our president apologized for the confusion and promised to learn from the mistake. The ruling party accepted his show of humility and its MPs refused to impeach him.The whole country appears to be on an emotional rollercoaster as we try to make sense of the responses of our politicians or their apparent failure to respond more decisively, to the judgement. As a reminder, the ConCourt found that our 1st citizen and parliament flouted the constitution. A veritable storm has erupted in workplaces and social arenas in defense or condemnation of our local politicians.
In another part of the World, the "Panama Papers" leak showed how the rich are using elaborate mechanisms to either avoid paying tax or not paying it at all. The president of Iceland resigned within days due to the public outrage that he was mentioned in the leaked papers.
How is it that accountability means different things to different people? I believe it comes down to ethics; on a personal level and then within communities and ultimately the country.
In an article in "Issues in Ethics" IIE V1 N1 (Fall 1987), the authors, to the question what is ethics? stated that Ethics is two things. First, ethics refers to well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Ethics, for example, refers to those standards that impose the reasonable obligations to refrain from rape, stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. Ethical standards also include those that enjoin virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty. And, ethical standards include standards relating to rights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy. Secondly, ethics refers to the study and development of one's ethical standards. As mentioned above, feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical. So it is necessary to constantly examine one's standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded. Ethics also means, then, the continuous effort of studying our own moral beliefs and our moral conduct, and striving to ensure that we, and the institutions we help to shape, live up to standards that are reasonable and solidly-based.
The two definitions above provide a platform for me to understand why our behavioural responses to our day-to-day interactions are so loaded with emotion and frustration, excitement and fulfillment and also why we must keep the conversation alive. To forego the debate will impoverish our thinking and progress.