We are living in times of severe trust deficit

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

When politicians are failing them, people have no alternative than to fall back on institutions, which they expect to be robust, clean, trustworthy. That should be the benchmark of our institutions

Let’s consider a scenario where one happens to be the head of an organization, whether public or private, and one gives a verbal instruction to a subordinate. Taking that person on trust – that s/he would have made prior due diligence – the person executes the task to his/her satisfaction. Subsequently, events unfold which would reveal a possible conflict of interest in that matter. Under the circumstances, what does a responsible human do? S/he assumes full responsibility for whatever has happened, and faces the consequences on behalf of the organization.

This situation could exist in any sphere, public or private, whether it be a ministry, any public institution in the country, a corporate or non-corporate entity. It goes without saying that the sense of responsibility and due diligence applies as well to the subordinate as to the superior – in fact to all levels in a hierarchy, but must more strongly characterize the higher levels.

The higher the position one occupies, the greater must be the sense of responsibility and stewardship. Unfortunately, we are not in an era of philosopher-kings, and probably never will be. But this does not absolve us, in particular those of us who have accepted to function at the highest levels of our country in any field – again, public or private -, from abiding by the highest standards of professional conduct, both technically and ethically. In fact, our professional actions must at all times be guided by the code of ethics specific to our domain as also by the general principles of ethics which, given our position, we are expected to be aware of.

That is why it is important for us to constantly resource and update oneself on such subtleties, more so if we are dealing with aspects of public life which impact nationally. Since as ordinary mortals we are not repositories of wisdom, we must perforce depend for our self-discipline and broader culture on the sapience of philosophers and sages both from the classical ages to the contemporary times.

One such personality of our times is Sadhguru of Isha Foundation, New Delhi, who has a very  deep understanding of not only human nature but of the way that our world is evolving, and gives very pragmatic guidance on any subject. To a group of young students who asked him about joining politics, this is what, inter alia, he had to say:

‘Politics means the making of policies. The reason we make policies is so that the complex web of human transactions will happen smoothly.

This is what a politician is supposed to do – make policies for the nation so that the nation can function smoothly, and make policies for the world so that international situations can happen smoothly. Right now we have this attitude, “Oh, a politician means a joker.” No, it is serious business – something that determines the life of millions of people in whichever nation we are functioning.

When such a tremendous privilege and responsibility is placed in your hands – that everything you do, every thought that you generate, every emotion that you have, every action that you perform, is going to affect millions of people’s lives – is it not very important that you are in the best possible place within yourself?

For example, if you are doing gardening, you needn’t worry whether your hands are clean or not because if your hands are dirty, plants know how to benefit from that. But if you are cutting fruit and selling it to everyone, the first thing I will look at is your hands because this is going to affect a few people who are going to buy fruit from you. If you are doing a surgery on someone, we really want your hands super-clean. The deeper the access you have to life, the cleaner your hands should become.

A politician is someone who has been given the responsibility and privilege that he can decide in which direction all our lives go. If such a privilege gets placed in your hands, you must ensure you are in the highest possible way a human being can be. (bold added)

The people of this nation and every nation need enlightened politicians. This is very important. So if you want to become a politician, you must come and spend a year with me and get reasonably enlightened because it is a tremendous responsibility.’

Substitute ‘person in position of high responsibility’ for politician and the same logic applies as well. ‘Reasonable enlightenment’ is an achievable goal if one is serious about one’s duties and responsibilities – and one should surely be isn’t it? That’s what is usually referred to as ‘enlightened self-interest’, a quality much desired and needed in the troubled times that we are living all over the world.

Elections are gearing up in Australia, and there are daily articles in The Conversation, an Australian online source, about several aspects of the political situation in Australia, with reference also where relevant to politics elsewhere. One of the remarks that was made some days back is that politicians all over the world are facing a severe trust deficit. This is exemplified by the traumatic events that have been taking place in a number of countries – Algeria, Sudan, France with its gilets jaunes, Venezuela, England with its brexiting that is struggling to birth, etc.

When politicians are failing them, people have no alternative than to fall back on institutions, which they expect to be robust, clean, trustworthy. That should be the benchmark of our institutions – and not for nothing is it said that it is the man that makes the institution.

Let us hope that we have such men and women who deserve the full respect and trust of the entire population of the country.

* Published in print edition on 3 May 2019

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