Character deficiency tells upon a nation

Maxim Institute Communications Manager Jason Heale (Photo Supplied)

Jason Heale
Auckland, January 30, 2024

With another shoplifting charge just laid against former Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, with a subsequent summons to appear in court, there are very few surprises to be wrung out of this sorry affair.

That doesn’t apply to Ghahraman alone. In the past six years, we have seen a Cabinet Minister evading the police, another fail to disclose investments, a mayor publicly drunk, an MP bullying subordinates, and a former National MP sending indecent images to young people.

Such actions erode trust in our institutions and degrade our faith in the people who are supposed to lead and represent us.

Unfortunately, they do represent us. Recently, business leaders were found in court charged with defrauding District Health Boards for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are also ordinary people engaging in “scam and go” programmes by stealing from supermarkets. The coverage of these incidents abounds with explanations that include racism, the stress that these jobs cause or cost-of-living troubles.

Mortal strength and integrity

In fact, there is something deeper happening here. The common cause is an absence of character.

Character is moral strength and integrity; it is, according to author David Brooks, “A moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive… You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave.”

This is crucial, not only because it goes against so much of what we think today, but because such a quality holds our society together. If we only look out for ourselves, the results are what we have seen above.

How, then, can we obtain this sort of character where those in positions of leadership act in the interests of those they lead, where our public servants serve the public who elected them? By holding people accountable. We let them know that actions have consequences and that if the choices are poor, the outcomes will also be poor. In short, we give people agency to take responsibility.

Where does all this start? Surely, with a proclamation telling our public servants and leaders of this new standard? No. It starts with you and me.

The path ahead lies in our hands. We must be courageous enough to acknowledge our flaws before demanding better from others.

Renewal of responsibility

We need not be perfect; we need only commit to the habitual act of facing weaknesses with honesty and intent to grow. In modelling accountability in our own lives, we can then reasonably expect the same from leaders charged with public trust.

We need a renewal of personal responsibility at all levels. Politicians claiming to serve, professionals bound by oaths, communities unified by shared hopes – we all must model the virtues and integrity we wish to see in others.

The Times once sent letters to authors asking them to write about what was wrong with the world. G K Chesterton wrote back two words: “I am.”

Jason Heale is Communications Manager at Maxim Institute, an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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