Friday, June 8, 2007

On Corruption

Here's a topic of some interest. I was listening to the film "All the King's Men", a superb film with Sean Penn and a host of good actors about the rise to power and the relationship to corruption that accompanies it, based on the book by Robert Penn Warren. Corruption, as the main character points out, is part of the human condition ... we all, all of us, have a shadow.

The problem is that we function within a society and within communities that refuse to acknowledge this fact. We not only aspire to the ideal of the "good soul", we actually believe it, some of the time, that a person can be "good" and have no shadow. This may be a residual of the Christian mentality, that divides the world into the divine, and evil incarnate, and suggests that people can be fully one or the other. We require of our politicians that they present an image of "goodness" to the public, with no taint of "corruption", and when they fail to do so, as they often do, we "reduce them in rank", or make them "walk the plank".

Societies that have corruption built into officialdom are not the answer, of course. This simply flips the image but leaves it unchanged. Stipulating that all official transactions be corrupt is no better than stipulating that politicians and statesmen are not allowed to have a dark side.

We remember Clinton for his shadow as much as his strengths, and this is viewed as humiliating for him, and a sad fact for everyone else. What if it were something else? What if it were the beginnings of an acknowledgement that even the best of us, those with the most responsability in their hands, of necessity have a dark side. The dark side, by its very nature, is rebellious... it is the part of us that rebels against the rules and the status quo. It is the reason so many people get into trouble over it. Part of who we are does not want to leave the shadow in hiding.

We also confuse the presence of corruption in all forms with a lack of integrity. This is subtle. Corruption is what happens when we are not allowed to acknowledge or accept our own shadow, individually and socially. It seeps out around the edges, under the table, between our legs (literally). It bites us in the backside. As individuals, we may find ourselves in situations where lying, stealing, covering up, and so on become necessary to keep the shadow out of the limelight. This leads us into situations where our integrity becomes compromised, in order to maintain that public image of "cleanliness and godliness".

There is a notion in both Christian traditions, but also in Buddhist, that "right thinking" will keep one out of trouble. But it is more complex than that. "Right thinking" does not mean excluding the shadow, but including it... otherwise, it cannot be effective.

It is perhaps time that we acknowledge the integrity of the self, not by denying the presence of the shadow, and not by sensationalizing it, as does much of modern entertainment, but by accepting and recognizing it explicitly. It is our shadow that provides us with passion and drive and energy to fully engage in the world. To imagine that we can accept these qualities but deny their source within us is not only illusory, it is unhealthy. This is part of moving away from an world of orthodoxy towards a world where paradox is accepted. The more ways we find to acknowledge the shadow in our lives and the lives of others, including, even especially those with responsibility, the less we shall encounter corruption, which is a consequence of denial.

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