By ZOÉ LIM
When we talk about corruption, it’s usually associated with people in high positions of power—politicians, leaders, law enforcers, etc.
Over the years, society has taken a very disconnected stance to the injustice of corruption. We look at corruption as a well-oiled machine, operated by a few select powerful individuals while the world stands by watching, enduring the consequences of said machine’s work.
The topic has always been spoken about as a negative behaviour that we should not associate ourselves with at all costs.
Perhaps this is the main fault in humankind’s battle against corruption. There is no forward movement to the stance. In fact, it probably even contributes further into the issue itself.
But what are the changes that we can make that are constantly preached about?
What steps can we take that would even affect the industry of corruption? As a lone individual in an overwhelming fast-paced society full of corruption, here are a few important things to consider:
1. Recognise that you, as an individual, can have an effect on the problem, because you are part of the problem.
An ever-prevailing trait of man is the constant avoidance of being caught on the wrong side.
We always want to believe that what we are doing is right, or not associate ourselves with whatever is deemed as “wrong” by society.
Even those who have done wrong, have their own twisted logic of how the ends justify the means.
The truth is that all our hands are dirty. Corruption is not linear; it’s a cycle.
Corruptive leadership can only flourish in an equally corrupt community made of equally corrupt individuals.
The “corruption machine” is well-oiled because people oil it by quietly tucking their heads down and moving on with their lives. If there is one mantra that has single-handedly halted the progression of greater good in humankind, it would be c’est la vie!
By merely accepting that there is nothing we can possibly do, or that that’s the way things are, we have already oiled the machine of corruption well enough for it to operate on its own.
We, as a community, are responsible for the corruption that happens within it, whether or not we believe that we directly partake in it.
Realise that by being a small part of the problem, you have the insider advantage of solving it.
But what can you do?
2. Be accountable for your actions.
This is a hard one because the biggest selling point of corruption is convenience, and who doesn’t love convenience?
Remember that because everything is a cycle, any changes made will eventually influence the circle as a whole.
Conforming to the convenience of corruption even on the smallest levels, its effect is multiplied within the bigger picture.
Once we have already recognised that we are part of the problem, then the next logical step is to face the consequences of our actions.
Pay your traffic fines in the stated amount. Don’t cut queue. Don’t expect more than you have actually signed to receive in a business deal. Question yourself as an individual, on your effect on the cycle, because in a bucket of water you’re a droplet. And every droplet counts (literally).
How do you make yourself count?
3. Get your hands dirty (the right way).
A bucket of water, a bundle of straw on the camel’s back—everything is made up of individuals joining together to become something bigger.
The first traffic bribe made probably came from the partnering of a compassionate police officer and some very sorry and broke looking individual.
The reason police officers around the world subtly ask for bribes is because traffic offenders opt to bear that cost instead of the actual cost of the fine.
What if everyone just stops paying the micro-bribes (in monetary or in kind value) that they pay, would those expecting to be bribed still ask for it?
What if we take it a step further and open our eyes up to the corruption happening every day? What if we say something about it to the people committing the act in front of us?
To be honest, it probably won’t be received very well, but speaking up is important because we are forcing others to acknowledge the issue (see Step 1).
Whether or not they react to it, it doesn’t matter. When a person has been called out for something he has done by another individual, it creates a lasting effect.
It reminds the person that he exists in a society where such behaviour is not tolerated. It shows that we care, as a community, for the well-being of others. We care enough about each other to stop each other from getting on the wrong side of the system.
Inherently, this will only bring a more positive effect on the community. Which bring us to the last point.
4. Acknowledge and utilise your influence.
There are several million easy ways to ruin a complete stranger’s day—drive like a maniac, cut queue, be rude, don’t wear deodorant or step into an already crowded elevator.
One of the most underestimated skills humans have is their influence on each other. Never doubt the power you have to change someone’s day, anyone’s day.
Making someone’s day is just as easy as ruining it. Everyone has influence. For some, the circles are large, and for others the circles are small.
We like to think about ourselves and those who govern over us as a separate entity. Hence, demanding for those who govern over us to clean up their act has come naturally.
But as mentioned before, a government is only as corrupt as the society it serves. Before asking what those in higher power can do to make a change, think about what you can do from where you are in your work, in your school, and in your family.
We’ve been duped into thinking that our work is insignificant—clock in and clock out—but it’s not just that.
We influence the people around us whether we want to or not, so we might as well just utilise the influence we already have.
In our everyday life, if we were to start living with the acknowledgement that what we do actually counts, our behaviour will surely change as well, ultimately influencing those around us. Edmund Burke said,
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Corruption is just that, a by-product of good individuals doing nothing. But as a product, its supply will always be subject to its demand.
For a corrupted community to strive, all three levels of individuals, institutions, and leaders must be able to tolerate it.
If one of those levels were to disconnect themselves from the vicious cycle, the chain of supply and demand will break.
It was never really a question about what we can do about corruption.
The real question is will we actually do it?