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Collective responsibility and one’s conviction
On which should a person place a greater premium; collective responsibility or individual conscience? Some may proclaim that no matter what, the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. But is it always as simple as that? That approach assumes that the two outcomes are mutually exclusive and this is not necessarily true.
We all have a responsibility to our family, to our community, to the company in which we work, and as citizens. That sense of commitment is derived from and is consistent with our core values. These core values define who and what we are and give us a sense of purpose and mission in life.
There are times when people would find that their responsibilities in the world of work and/or association come into direct conflict with their innermost convictions. Very difficult decisions then have to be made, decisions that have a direct impact on one’s career, finance and life.
Should a person tell the truth and have their friends penalised? Should he/she stand apart and risk being ostracised by friends or colleagues or go along with something that their conscience says is wrong? Standing up for one’s values and belief is what brings about change in the world. But the numbers of such people are decreasing. It may be due to an increasing acceptance of material values and the diminishing of the meta-physical values; wealth is more valuable than honesty, position more important than character.
Recent revelations in the public domain, regarding situations that resulted in severe losses and trauma to citizens of this country, have clearly demonstrated that people were not prepared to stand up to obvious unacceptable actions and behaviour. One can only presume it was to keep their position and perks. Resignation on a position of principle, here, is a rare event.
In this country, the herd mentality rules and it is curious for we are such an individualistic lot. Shooting the messenger is a national pastime and personalising issues the national motto. This makes bucking the trend a dangerous approach.
It is thus extremely interesting to see how the labour issue pans out as there are issues of conviction versus collective responsibility. The way forward cannot be to adopt the approach that you are either my friend or my enemy. There are times when our enemies may agree with us and times when our friends disagree with us.
Mature leadership should not feel threatened by this. No leader can have his or her way all the time and further, since no one is omnipotent, it is always a good thing to have differences of opinion. Isolating or alienating those who feel strongly about issues is the hallmark of weak and insecure leadership for those people are generally motivated and can serve to energise and enthuse others.
Dealing with diversity in opinion, within a unified framework, appears to be the prevalent paradigm in politics. It is not new as coalition governments have been almost the norm in other countries (like India) and do exist in several European countries. The key issue is to have a framework to facilitate discussions and a structure to allow for disagreements.
On most occasions, collective responsibility would trump other concerns but in the instances when firm convictions stand immovable then do not view it as a destructive action. A good leader is by necessity one of firm resolute conviction for it is that very quality that inspires people to his cause. If he or she wavers willy-nilly, credibility becomes threatened.
An integral part of the leadership challenge is to know when to graciously give in to collective responsibility and when to stand tall, strong and resolute.
• Prakash Persad is the director of Swaha Inc
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