Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 8 News List

We see no integrity; but is the problem us?

By Hsu Yung-ming 徐永明

A survey of parents' and teachers' views on the character of politicians was recently conducted by Commonwealth magazine. The results show that, except for Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), no one now active on the political stage has made a good impression on the public. In particular, those in power now, or in power in the recent past -- such as President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) -- trail in the rankings.

In contrast, former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and former premier Sun Yun-suan (孫運璿), who have left the political stage, topped the list, highlighting a nostalgic atmosphere.

But the results might be better seen as the public's yearning for past authoritarian rule. Dictators of the authoritarian regime (such as Chiang), their capable bureaucrats (such as Sun) and the successors they carefully trained (such as Ma) are viewed by intellectuals as politicians with character and integrity.

But political figures like Chen and Lu, who sacrificed themselves for the democracy movement and who confronted the totalitarian rulers, are considered to be of lower morality than their oppressors and are ranked far lower than them.

This comparison aroused my interest in the essence of character. Is it not true that upright behavior is often suppressed under an authoritarian rule that imposes limits on freedom? This is best manifested in the great number of political prisoners.

As the survey shows, those whose views were suppressed on account of their political activities are deemed to have flawed characters, while those who inflicted oppression or acted as hatchet men are seen as having noble personalities. These results highlight the biggest problem in Taiwan's character education.

When integrity means obedient behavior and noble, pleasant-to-hear words, when honesty is defined as abiding by the law, and when there is a lack of conflicting values, choices and actions, then people's perceptions of integrity and honesty are conditioned in a certain way. Those with power and abundant resources naturally look noble and moral. With such conditioning, integrity is no more than an act of public relations.

Integrity means the willingness to sacrifice oneself for one's ideas or principles and to give up short-term interests to safeguard certain values. It is difficult enough to make these choices under ordinary circumstances, and more difficult yet when such choices involve sacrificing one's family and one's own life to pursue an idea. This is the true definition of integrity.

Integrity education should focus on teaching people how to make a choice between interests and values and not just go with the flow. An emphasis should be placed on values and principles, while honesty, deportment and abidance by the law should be seen merely as the product of judgements based on these values or interests. What is required for integrity is not abiding by the law, but being willing to abandon one's own interests in favor of principles.

Such integrity is not conditioned, and has become more difficult to achieve as the environment has become democratized and diversified. This is because, when sources of suppression disappear and temptations increase, integrity runs into the value conflicts that come with power. This is why rebels are faced with more severe challenges when they get power.

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