Every now and again, I might get a little bit ‘off topic’ and stray into politics or economics.. and yet, politics is our spirituality, demonstrated. Finance is our spirituality, demonstrated. Social action is our spirituality, demonstrated. Every part of our life is a demonstration of our inner walk (even if you be atheist or agnostic).
Anyway, I was out taking an early morning walk round Oundle, my new home (lovely town, lots of old buildings), this morning, and I came across the meeting invitation for the Town Council. Not really sure why I stopped and read this one, as they are usually as dull as ditchwater. To start with, something in the way that it was phrased made it read like a summoning – as if there was an implied threat… you are summoned to a meeting of the Oundle Town Council [which you will attend or else (your home and lands will be repossessed/ you will be put in stocks/ you will be rehomed within 100 yards of the church bells which strike every 15 minutes all day and all night) (Sorry, got carried away there – made a bad location choice a few years back and moved too close to the church (and its bells)).
Sorry, where was I? Ah yes. Now, the first item on the agenda was the presentation of any entertaining that had been accepted since the last meeting. Any gifts or entertaining that had been offered (and accepted) or offered (and declined) had to be presented. Hold on. This is the FIRST thing on the agenda? The most important thing?
I read on, gripped now by the significance and priorities of town life. Apparently, any entertaining over £25 has to be declined. Well, I thought.. that should reduce the possibility of bribery in the town council. And then sanity gripped me. Whoa there, Nellie. Hold on a moment.
What this actually means is that we are now afraid that we have councillors that can be bribed with a £25 meal. Now, honestly, I don’t know ANYONE who is that shallow and desperate. I suspect that anyone on the town council isn’t THAT hungry. And if you’ve got those kind of people on the council – you’ve got the wrong people on the council. So what kind of message are we sending out? Sorry, dude, we’re going to entrust the future of an entire town to you – but actually we think you’re cheap enough to be bought for £25.
When I think back to my days in corporate life, similar things applied, but perhaps not so rigorously enforced. I’d get the occasional gift from a supplier, or they’d take me to dinner (worst experience – being taken to a steakhouse in Texas – as a vegetarian). (Actually, that wasn’t the worst experience.. but perhaps I should draw a veil over those memories).
I have a suspicion that really if someone bought me anything, it made them LESS likely to get the contract… because I would want to demonstrate squeaky clean that I couldn’t be bought. And I think most people are like that. You know, it’s not morally wrong to accept a gift. In fact, gifts are part of life in Asia – turn up at a home without one, and you’ve committed social suicide. It’s not morally wrong to accept a gift – but it is inappropriate to allow that to sway your decision.
So what message are we sending out? That we can’t trust our civil leaders, our business leaders? Or that we can’t trust the process that will find and punish corruption if it does happen?
I just wonder if we shouldn’t sometimes just trust people to do the right thing?
picture of Oundle School copyright 2012 Tim Hodgson