Curbing Greed by managing your expectations

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday, January 9, 2014

Continuing our discussion, the first step in addressing the universal scourge of corruption and greed is recognizing that there is a problem. If one or one’s group (organization or country) fails to act to solve the problem at hand, perceiving it as being foreign, domestic corruption will not ever be annihilated. Instead of accusing foreign countries of corrupt practices, President Xi of China has begun his own anti-corruption drive. He started with curbing expenses spent on entertainment and gifts, tightening control of lavish spending of the country’s coffers underscoring the principle of accountability. Setting the example, he recently queued at a humble Beijing eatery where he paid a modest 21 yuan(US$3.50) for a meal of pork buns, fried liver and vegetables. Whilst this may be an initial effort, citing a Chinese adage: A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Can one be bribed and if so at what price? To quote the common cliché “Name your price”. At what point would one’s values and integrity crumble to succumb to bribery and corruption? Can your integrity be bought? According to Confucius the answer is emphatically no.

Greed often presents as avarice (a lustful desire for money) and covetousness (wanting something which belongs to others). Covetousness is a human failing which is listed in the Ten Commandments, in which God commanded of His people (the Jews) in Exodus 20 that they should not covet their neighbour’s home and everything therein, including his wife, possessions, servants and livestock. In short, greed and taking something which does not belong to one, (theft) is not condoned by God.

In today’s world of excessive consumerism and materialism, to eschew what we have come to have taken for granted is indeed a challenge. Confucius preached the credo of integrity and also promoted ascetical lifestyle. Whilst it is important to inculcate integrity, it is equally important, especially in our contemporary context to manage our expectations. What or who do we benchmark to measure success? Confucius instead measures one’s success by one’s upright values and character, not by one’s wealth or status.

Failure to meet expectations often results in feeling of disappointment, unhappiness and discontentment, which in the absence of integrity and values puts one at risk of greed and corruption. Perhaps it is time to take the cue from Confucius by redefining $ucce$$.

Whist it is important to manage our own expectations, it is also prudent to manage the expectations of our offspring. Indulgent parents today often pamper their children with expensive toys and exotic travel. These indulgent parents think nothing of flying business or first class with their young children on holidays. If these children are deprived of the chance to travel or have to travel in steerage instead of first or business class, they will feel deprived, disappointed and discontented, pitfalls discussed in the preceding paragraph. Perhaps it is wise to remember that one cannot possibly miss what one has never had. The discussion continues….