By Nyundu Drammeh
“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man pick’d out of ten thousand.” Hamlet talking to Polonious
A story is told of a young lady and an older woman who were passing by a cemetery. The epitaph on one of the tombstones read: here lies John, a politician and an honest man. The older women turned to the younger lady and remarked: ‘These people are wicked. How can they bury two people in the same grave?’
It is true that when we look at the world of politicians, we see many Mr Hydes and Dr Jekylls. We see men and women who were once true to their words but, upon joining politics, threw away their integrity and character to the wind. Their chameleon-like skills, adroitly displayed to deceive the gullible, makes many people regard politics as dirty and corrupt. There are exceptions though. Amongst and in that crowd are statesmen and selfless individuals who have taken politics as a vocation, actuated by nothing but the desire to see their people uplifted to the highest level of decency and dignity. Rare gems but still in that crowd, few swans among crows. Since exception proves that the rule exists, I speak of the rule and not the exceptions.
But truth be told, sincerity, honesty, faithfulness, integrity, consistency, truthfulness, trustworthiness and uprightness are not values or principles for only politicians to live by. They must be for all; each must swear and live by them. Politicians are part of the society; they come from it and serve it. Expecting only politicians to be honest when the rest of society lives in the cesspool would be seriously delusional and dangerous. In most part, we make politicians who they become. Thus, for the progress of society, for the alignment of values and societal aspirations, for the future of society and for the sake of posterity; we must cultivate young men and women with integrity; we must insist that our leaders, political, social, religious, economic and legal, are men and women of integrity. There must not be dissonance between creed and deed.
Men and women with integrity are able to match their words, feelings, thoughts and actions without duplicity, without being false to others they live with, work with or lead. When there is no credibility gap in our lives, we become authentic, we live with congruence. We are without guile; we are false to no one. Men and women with integrity do not feign appearances or affectations in an attempt or with the desire to deceive, take advantage of, manipulate or control. They know that they do not have to remember what they say because they are truthful; they know that their words and deed are always in harmony.
When it comes to integrity, we always want the benefits of it without having to actually adhere to these standards ourselves. It is not integrity when we expect others to be honest and sincere with us but we can hit them under the belt, we can be dishonest with them. It is not integrity when we expect others to follow our laid down principles, code of conduct, rules, laws and policies which apply to all but which we can flout with impunity, because we are the boss, the owner, the leader. It is not integrity when there is a gulf between our diction and our action, between our creeds and our deeds.
We become persons of integrity through our own words and deeds. We must earn it. The holy Prophet of Islam earned the title ‘Al-Amin’, the trustworthy, by his congruence, the matching of his creed and deed. In trustworthiness, the Holy Prophet excelled. Everyone understood he was absolutely honest, that he could be trusted, and that his actions and motives were always right. No cajoling, manipulation, bribery or hatred could make him break a promise or give up his principles and values. Steadfastness was his name. We all love him but few are as exemplary. Strangely enough, only a few ever attempted to do as he did.
After addressing the House of Commons, during the Round Table Conference, journalists asked Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s secretary, how it was possible for Gandhi to talk for hours on end without a note. Desai replied ‘…. You don’t understand Gandhi. You see, what he thinks is what he feels. What he feels is what he says. And what he says is what he does. What Gandhi thinks, what he feels, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes. You and I think things, which sometimes may be different than what we feel. What we say depends on who’s listening. What we do depends on who’s watching…..’
Integrity means that when we are trusted, we do not betray- that public offices and the public treasury are trusts which we must never betray. Integrity means that when we take a pledge, we fulfil it…. Now, how many of us live by the tenets of our National Anthem, a pledge we take at nearly every event or gathering, a pledge we have been taking since childhood, right through from our primary to high school education? ‘Let justice guide our actions’ we say, nay we parrot. We cannot gain trust when we lack congruence in our lives. We must be able to walk the talk. The walk and the talk must match the values that we espouse or say represent our lives.
But our society…. It discourages integrity, honesty and truthfulness…..When people have congruence, are authentic, honest, incorruptible and principled we mock their ways; we call them by all sorts of demeaning names. Sometime we curse incorruptible men and women; we pray they die in absolute penury and neglect. When you are principled and truthful, you are either branded irascible or ‘difficult’ or pejoratively called ‘toubabo’. We celebrate Drs Jekylls and Hydes ; we extol corrupt people and scorn honest men and women.
Imagine what it would mean for the Gambia if all of our leaders, religious, economic, social, political, legal, academic, had the courage of their convictions during the 22 years of our tyranny? Imagine what it would have meant for The Gambia if Solo Sandeng and others hadn’t walked their talk? What if trust and confidence were the foundation of every relationship? What if every man or woman’s word was his or her bond? What if we were willing and ready to live by the tenets of the religions we swear by? What if there were no incongruence between the creeds and practices of our Civil Society Organisations during the Jammeh regime? What if we were not false to anyone? By lack of integrity on the part of most of us, we created a Frankenstein Monster who came to devour all of us, the good and the evil. As the wise man said “I can’t say to you I will be your servant unless I can say I am my own master”.
May be each of us should read Dale Wimbrow’s poem ‘The Guy in the Glass’:
“When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But the final reward will be heartache and tears,
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.”