First published Sunday Standard,May 7, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group
The search for leadership and integrity is growing slowly in the republic. We are increasingly questioning not only our leaders but ourselves. Last week, I spent a morning discussing integrity and leadership with twenty religious leaders. Several insights emerged.
Asked what our personal values are, we are quick to declare that honesty, integrity and faith are core principles for our lives. Yet, the very values of honesty, integrity and faith are missing all around us. Instead, public apathy, future uncertainty and a profound mistrust in our leaders shows up in every conversation we have.
Parents think twice before leaving money on their dressing tables. The faithful pray to God with one eye open in case others prey on their smart-phones. Funeral committee treasurers don’t announce how much has been raised by those present lest they be mugged on their way out. Jamani, we are not safe in our homes, in prayer or in mourning. So, what are we really committed to creating in our families, places of worship and the country? Are we committed to these values as intentions in our heads or are we committed to transforming the behavior of those around us?
Let me eliminate a couple of other comforting thoughts. No number of passwords on our phones, online bank accounts or our Treasury IFMIS will fix this. There are no alternative leaders or angels coming to save us. As Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker noted recently, we must be comfortable with being uncomfortable and start having new conversations for change to happen.
Religion has always been a powerful force for integrity and social change. By all accounts, the thousands of disciples, prophets and messengers were remarkable men and women. Most were hope messengers and active disruptors in their societies. 1,976 years before we enshrined the right to peacefully picket and demonstrate in our constitution, Jesus Christ organized one of the most powerful political demonstrations against the Israelites in Jerusalem. Palm Sunday is still re-enacted every year all over the world.
All religious texts from the koran to the bible are framed around the extra-ordinary power of ordinary actions. An Uber taxi-driver expressed this powerfully recently. We had just stopped to protect a man from falling into a busy road as he underwent an epileptic fit. After the man recovered, he explained that over the last two days, he had missed taking two pills (worth ten shillings) because he was broke. We bought him ten days’ worth of pills and took him home. Our taxi-driver went quiet and then said aloud, half to himself, “Perhaps these are the miracles we read in the bible. Was this what Jesus was doing when he was helping others? I see many things on our roads, perhaps I should train as a St Johns First Aider?”
Hearing this story, Reverend Phyllis Byrd commented, “The central gospel of the bible is to be the living example Jesus was. We also forget that Jesus was not popular or loved by all. He was persecuted for his faith and convictions.” We are told by the Muslim scholars so too was Bilal, Asiya and many others.
Perhaps we all – religious or otherwise – can draw strength from the power of Jeremiah 31:31 that says, “A time is coming when my law will be placed in the hearts of all men and women.” Can we also imagine a time when the constitutional values of leadership and integrity are alive in our homes, places of worship and work?
If you are like me and past the 50-year-old mark, you may be thinking this is talk for young men and women. Consider the world remembers Jesus for the miracles he performed in the last four years of his life. He was a humble carpenter for the first thirty years. Professor Wangari Maathai was in her seventies before she was globally recognized. The Pan African and black consciousness icon and leader Malcom X earned global influence in only last twelve years of his life. In his younger years, he was addict, pimp and petty thief.
There is space for all us in this journey to a society of conviction and dignity