Confucian beliefs and conscience

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Monday, February 24 2014

We continue our discussion on the futility recruiting manpower based on academic results alone or we will end up hiring intelligent devils.

Warren Buffet’s prediction will come to pass with if you hire people with intelligence and energy but no integrity. They will kill you!

Hiring a dumb devil on the other hand presents other challenges as his loyalty can be bought. Bribery and corruption takes place when one’s benefits comes before one’s duties and trust is breached. What then should one do if one’s colleagues or friends expect one to return a favor or fulfill a promise by acting in an unethical or amoral manner? In accordance to Confucian precepts, promises should only be kept if they are in line with the virtues. By this, he means that the trust placed on one should not be breached, that it is in line with propriety (distinguishing right from wrong), is righteous (doing what is right), is incorruptible and does not bring shame to oneself or the organization one represents.

Confucius warns that one who is without virtues swayed by his own personal gains and losses will resort to every conceivable means to maintain their vested interest. Confucius was referring to corruption of those in service of the country, ministers, civil servants who would for example, excessively tax citizens to gain personal benefits by way of promotions and bonuses. We have seen examples in bankers whose remuneration based on transactional commissions, would make deals which are clearly not in the interest of their clients. Banks have collapsed as a result of these rogue bankers. The bottom line is that behavior of employees should not be influenced by the manner in which they are paid. Then there are examples of clinicians who are placed in positions to take advantage of information asymmetry to promote treatment modalities, modalities which they would not otherwise accept had they been the patient. Unethical practices are perpetrated when a conflict of interest arises and when self interest reigns.

In order to curb corporate crime and bribery, greed and ethics has to be addressed upstream, at the level of manpower selection. It is ineffectual to waste resources on surveillance and spyware, or even imposing fines on perpetrators, as the problem cannot be tackled downstream. Unlike Xun Zi 荀子Confucius was not a legalist and does not believe in resorting to the law to manage behavior. There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts. Mahatma Gandhi

It is only when one is imbued with virtues that “one’s conscience can be one’s compass”, Vincent Van Gogh. Conscience guided by one’s beliefs will prevent self interest from over riding the responsibilities one is entrusted with. The Confucian paradigm is that one should be righteous and not be out to seek unethical gratification and benefits.

This was his warning to anyone in government that they are there to serve the country and citizens and not to help themselves to the coffers. Albert Einstein echoed the same sentiments and said “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” Even when one is in the minority as Mahatma Gandhi reiterated "in matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place".

Stringent selection criteria upstream will prevent problems downstream. However, the ultimate solution lies in addressing the problem at its source, nurturing oneself and one’s children from young is the key to sowing the good seeds.

Confucius maintains that “if your behavior is wrong it is because there is something wrong with your beliefs”, words which were later enunciated by 19th century Baptist preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon.