Let's all do unto others as we would like them to do to us

Jan 07 2018 13:24
Mandi Smallhorne

“ACCOUNTABILITY” is my word for 2018; for the politicians in thrall to Zuptadom and the people who run our parastatals and are accused of acting in the service of elite interests rather than those of the people.

And recently, the stunning collapse of Steinhoff has finally pushed many to understand that corporates have accountability responsibilities too, not just to their boards but to their shareholders, many of whom represent ‘the masses’ in the form of pension and provident fund investments. (And then there’s the corporates’ duty of accountability to their employees, often forgotten – how many Steinhoff employees stand to lose jobs?)

To what standards should we hold them all accountable – especially public servants, paid by our tax money and specifically employed to serve us?

Seven principles for UK public servants

Well, seven principles are supposed to guide British public servants:

1. Selflessness
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

2. Integrity
Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends […].

3. Objectivity
Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

4. Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

5. Openness
Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

6. Honesty
Holders of public office should be truthful.

7. Leadership
Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should […] be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

I’ve copied and pasted practically in full, because it’s like a punch in the gut, isn’t it? Have I, have you, ever lived under a government or regime where even a faint shadow of these seven principles was present in public servants?

The Golden Rule

Maybe it’s too much to expect public servants to read all that verbiage. Well, there’s one very simple principle that seems to neatly encapsulate everything said here, in its own way. It’s embodied in all organised religions, philosophical systems, and secular systems of morality:

“Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” Mahabharata, 5:1517 (Hinduism)

“Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.” (The Atheist Ten Non-Commandments)  

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18 (Buddhism)

“Do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself,” as the humanists put it.  

“What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary," Talmud, Shabbat 31a

"Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you," states Matthew 7:12 in the New Living Translation of the Bible - what has become known as the Golden Rule.

Just about everybody active in politics today professes one or other of the religious faiths mentioned here.

From Julius Malema ("God is my inspiration. In everything I do I pray. I pray three times a day, in the morning, afternoon, and before I sleep”) to Mmusi Maimane (masters degree in theology and devout Christian) to Cyril Ramaphosa (“…someone who was very much shaped in his early years by his Christianity”), faith is constantly being foregrounded in our political life. (Alarmingly so, sometimes, to those of us who believe in separating church and state, those of us who lived through the unholy knitting together of church and state under apartheid.)

But the Golden Rule is universal, the core moral principle adopted by atheists, humanists, philosophers as well as those of faith.

So, we could ask some very simple questions of our leaders, opposition and government; our councillors; our public servants, answering the phones at municipalities or sitting behind counters at the traffic department; the leaders and employees at parastatals: do you follow the Golden Rule?

Are you doing to us (even the ‘least of us’) as you would like to be done by? If you were treated the way you’re treating me, how would you feel?

And I see no reason why we should not hold corporates to the same fundamental principle: are you treating others as you want to be treated? If your future ability to care for yourself was put at risk as you’ve risked my pension by your reckless behaviour, how would you feel?

Would you be happy if your kid’s health was endangered by your product, as the health of mine is? How would you, Cellphone Executive, feel if you were ripped off and then ignored, as I’ve been?

Yes, it’s got nothing to do with profits and practical politics. But it is the foundation of a flourishing, healthy and functioning community. “Do as you would be done by.” (Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies). A community worth fighting for, I think.

  • Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. 24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

mandi smallhorne  |  opinion


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