A people that values its privileges above its principles loses both
How do you feel when you are going to your office and you find the traffic halted because some VIP or minister is passing on the road? How do you feel when you visit your cousin who is a senior civil servant and find him living in a big bungalow with beaconed cars and a posse of orderlies? What do you feel when you see a senior police officer escorted by a host of police officers when travelling on the road; or, big businessmen living in their palatial bungalows with personal jets, fleets of cars and dozens of servants?
We often get impressed with the privileges enjoyed by ministers, civil servants and top honchos of firms. We wish to occupy those positions and to enjoy those privileges as well. But, have we ever realized that such great privileges are actually associated with huge responsibilities that have to be carried out by the so called privileged class?
It is important to understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch in the world. You have to pay the price for everything that you get in this world. When you get a privilege, it always comes with responsibility which comes with the position. Mwai Kibaki, the former president of Kenya rightly explained, “Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed.” However, most people focus only on position and privileges which are enjoyable and shun the responsibilities that come with power and position.
Privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. We get many privileges due to our birth itself. When we are born in the family of rich, intelligent and caring parents, we are already privileged as we do not have to face the hardship faced by millions of children across the world. As we grow in our lives, we want to get more and more privileges since they make us special. We work hard in our schools so that we get top rank and get a privileged position in the school. When we become adults, we wish to occupy top positions in government or corporate to get the highest levels of privilege. However, once we have privileges, we realize that they are also accompanied by responsibilities, which may not be so pleasurable. The world famous management Guru Peter Drucker explained, “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility”.
The higher the privileges, the greater are the responsibilities. We have to use our power in a responsible manner using the right principles so that our actions are for the benefit of the organisation and the society. If we don’t follow the principles in life and use power only for our personal benefits, we may soon lose them forever.
There are many examples in history of great people and great nations who lost their privileges when they lost their principles. Hitler got the mandate of the people to lead Germany. However, he misused his position for personal glory and started the World War. The result was the death of several million people including millions of Jews who were killed in the concentration camp on his orders. In the end, Hitler committed suicide, but not before his country and the world was devastated due his lack of principles and misuse of power.
When we use power to better the life of others by following high principles, we are remembered forever. Abraham Lincoln used his position as the President of America to get his country rid of slavery and even sacrificed his life for it. So, he is remembered today as one of the greatest Presidents of the US who contributed immensely to make the country a more equitable and just society. An old proverb rightly says, “Expedients are for the hour, but principles are for the ages”.
Why don’t people follow principles, but love to enjoy their privileges? It is so because following principles does not provide instant benefits. When you take a principled position like speaking the truth, doing your duty according to the law and taking action against the powerful people, it may cause you harm in the short term; whereas following the opposite path may benefit you at least materially. Many people misuse their position and engage in corrupt or criminal acts and make huge money to reach the top of the social hierarchy. For example, many businessmen often acquire wealth by resorting to tax evasion and following many unethical practices.
It is not easy to follow principles since the honest people often have to face opposition from the unprincipled people who are willing to do anything to keep their privileges. People laugh at the principled people and ridicule them as impractical since they themselves are, in general, unprincipled. Louisa May Alcott, an American novelist and poet explains, “A principle that can’t bear being laughed at, frowned on, and cold-shouldered, isn’t worthy of the name”.
However, the people who misuse their privileges fail to produce the results for their organisation and pay a price for it. A corrupt officer, when caught, has to go to jail and lose all privileges. A tax evader may face a tax raid and end up paying huge fines and penalties besides suffering imprisonment. A corrupt minister may eventually lose the trust of the people and may be voted out in the next election losing power and privilege both.
It is thus important to understand that power and privilege comes with responsibilities that must be discharged according to the high principles. We have to value principles more than privileges because privileges can’t be preserved for long without principles. Former Israeli President Shimon Peres advised us, “I learned that public service is a privilege that must be based on moral foundations.”
We may get short term benefits by the misuse of our privileges, but we suffer in the long run. The misuse of privilege can harm the society immediately and sooner or later, us too. On the other hand, when we use power in adherence to principles, we gain the trust of the stakeholders who would then be willing to give us even more privileges, assured that we would use them only in their interest. We must therefore learn to value principles over privileges; it brings long term benefits, true satisfaction and honour not only to us, but also the society and the nation. The American civil activist Tarana Burke once said, “Inherently, having privilege isn’t bad, but it’s how you use it, and you have to use it in service of other people”.