In various general and local elections since Belize’s independence, Belizeans like myself who are not aligned to any political party have voted interchangeably for UDP, PUP, VIP and no “P” depending on their assessment of the party’s performance in government and the quality of leadership. This swing in voting pattern has usually been a reaction of the people against the abuse of power, scandals and corruption, cronyism, arrogance, lack of accountability and transparency, lack of genuine consultation and the lack of professionalism (or blatant disrespect for the public) that have surfaced in each government administration. From one election period through another, the Belizean people have been searching for a government administration that they can trust to rigorously promote their general welfare and protect their rights; to provide effective and efficient public services, social order and security; to ensure strong systems of justice; and, to provide economic opportunities that derive wide benefits to the society.
Belizeans are not expecting the government to solve all their problems. They certainly do not want leaders who are repressive, disrespectful and deceitful, and who lie or steal. Neither do they expect their government to take away their power and rights as a people. Instead, most are longing for their quality of life to be different. They expect the government to protect and empower them to enjoy their full rights and benefits as citizens of this nation. They also expect that the leaders whom they hire at each election, adhere to the principles of civility and integrity. When there is a culture of integrity, employees in various services of the government take pride in their jobs, respect their offices and the citizens. People all expect that the government will ensure that the police department, justice system, health, education and other sectors reliably serve with the highest level of integrity.
Since independence, both major political parties have been entrusted by the will of the people to govern with integrity, to engage the people in collectively defining the direction of our country’s development, to empower them to become actively involved in the development process. In many ways, both parties have failed to implement critical reforms to strengthen our governance system.
Even after the nation has seen, and is seeking to recover from, the worst scandalous periods of corruption that have crippled the national economy, there is that sinking feeling of disappointment and despair among the masses as more scandals continue to emerge.
Belize cannot continue to operate by mere faith in the men or women elected to political office or those hired to serve in various ministries or departments. Politics (and leaders) without principles perpetuates deep divisiveness, robs people from realizing opportunities for their development and inflicts suffering that can impact one generation to another. Reforms must be made to strengthen systems of integrity and accountability.
At the same time, strengthened structures and systems are not enough. Those who lack integrity and are greedy and unscrupulous will always find ways to undermine the system. As Henry David Thoreau observed, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
The root of corruption also originates within each individual. It starts out as individual greed, the self-centered and often insatiable desire for more pleasure and possessions in order to bolster the ego with power, status and prestige. The greed is fueled by a culture of materialism in which, as the Dalai Lama notes “The consumer society is constantly tempting us to spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, for the sake of a happiness that won’t last.”
No matter how much pleasure is derived from the ill-gotten material or sensual enjoyment, those obsessed by greed always crave more for themselves. The mind obsessed by greed is distorted with lies and deceit. In the craving to satisfy personal desires, the mind is blinded of the destructive impact of its actions on others; it becomes increasingly selfish and possessive, and devoid of clarity and integrity to make wise decisions for the common good. It is why spiritual teachings recognize that, “the love of money is the root of all evil.”
As this culture of materialism, individualism and greed expands, we see its manifestations even among our youth with the increase in incidences of stealing (along with lying and deceit) within our schools.
Why are some people greedy? One of the reasons is that in their pursuit of happiness they believe that the more they possess, the happier they will be. Indeed if that were so, millionaires would be the happiest people in the world when really many are not. People who live their lives focused on having excess material possessions for their own selves, tend to worry more and have more anxiety because the more they have, the more you have to lose.
Then they spend a lot of energy acquiring more resources to protect what they have. Their minds are never calm or at peace and in the focus on self, can never discern the highest good for the well-being of others. Until people learn to deal with their unsatiated desire for more objects and pleasure, they will remain always unfulfilled and trapped by possessiveness.
When values of materialism and greed become a part of leadership, it does not serve the common good. Such problems as racism, corruption, environmental problems, all stem from greed and the loss of individual soul from genuine connection with others and with nature. Once such habits are rooted, it often becomes hard to break if the individual is not aware and committed to rooting out these tendencies within self.
Rooting out greed from within self takes self-discipline and personal integrity. When a leader of a ministry, department, school, organization or church, does not develop the self-discipline and personal integrity from within, his or her deeds, plans, and purposes can result in tremendous suffering among the people they are meant to serve. Conversely, the deeds, plans and purposes of leaders who develop and maintain wisdom, self-discipline and integrity will lead to a more just society.
Everything begins with the mind. When the mind is not nurtured in a positive way, it reflects disorders such as greed (self-centered desires), hatred, enmity, anger, and violence. When the mind is developed with solid principles the thoughts, actions, words, and behavior will lead to better conditions for self and others. It is important therefore for leaders to always work rigorously towards achieving the highest level of self-discipline, honesty and integrity. A spiritual leader once noted, “The mind can be wicked or gentle. The mind can be a friend or foe. If the mind is transformed, all is transformed.”
Belize’s leaders can learn valuable lesson of this self-discipline from the examples of Belize’s football stars, Woodrow West and Ian Gaynair, whose self-discipline and integrity made them reject bribery. They can also learn from the example of the Father of the Nation, George Price, that a strong and disciplined mind is free from craving for excessive materials and pleasures, and is expressed through the simplicity of living and steadfastness of purpose. Like other highly developed leaders of the world, he knows and achieves this through consistent rootedness to a higher source and higher purpose. This rootedness transforms self and humanity.
In the rapidly declining values and standards of behavior in our society, families and communities must continue to nurture and encourage positive values and individual integrity. Schools must also find new ways, such as engaging students in the centuries-old practice of daily silent meditation and fostering life skills, to reinforce such positive values as honesty, non-greed, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, love, peace – all fruits of the spirit. When these positive values are not nurtured, we face the increase of greed, selfishness, jealousy, ignorance, anger, violence, disrespect for nature and people, and other negative energies. Values, whether positive or negative, become reflected through the behavior of individuals, including those in leadership positions.
In the end, when each leader of government, of ministries, departments, schools, churches, business and other agencies, roots himself or herself in deeper awareness to higher principles, and transforms to wisdom, courage, honesty, respect, compassion, peace and love, our nation will be greatly served.