Reaping what you sow

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday, December 5, 2013

We continue the series (after a break) on contemporary applications of the teachings of Confucius with a look at current events which have made the headlines.

Adding to the growing list of corporate fraud, what almost seems like history repeating itself, another corporation is criminally indicted. SAC Capital paid a record of $1.8 billion, the largest settlement for insider trading in US history.

Confucius warned that with time, human faults if unchecked will result in more corrupt, arrogant, perverse and brazen behaviour, as exemplified by the growing complexity of corporate crime. The lesson herein is that that in spite of immeasurable resources spent on sophisticated surveillance, higher and heavier fines, the incidence of corporate fraud is still on the rise, validating Confucius’ teaching that fines and punishment are ineffective in preventing corruption. Only if one is imbued with values and integrity can corruption be prevented. Rules and regulations are useless as criminal minds will know how to game the system.

An earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale hit Japan on March 11, 2011 unleashing a cascade of events, with a devastating tsunami and nuclear accident, leaving many dead, missing and homeless. This apocalyptic crisis left the world shocked and at the same time, astonished by the exemplary manner in which the Japanese nation responded to the calamity. They reacted with dignity, civility and integrity, with no reports of looting, profiteering or rioting, even though there were no rules or surveillance cameras to monitor their every move. The cultivation of character in an individual, corporation or country, is not achieved overnight, let alone when faced with disaster. These seeds of integrity were sown from a young age. Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

Punitive fines are likened to measures to uproot weeds. Whilst they are effective in curbing and removing undesirable elements in order that the desired crop can flourish, if no measures are taken to sow the seeds of integrity and values, the subsequent harvest will be replaced with weed and not the desired outcome.What one reaps is a testament to what one sows or failed to. You can always tell a tree from its fruit.

Confucius spent his adult life instructing his students on the methods of sowing seeds of integrity, giving pointers on identifying and uprooting weeds of corrupt and errant behaviour in individuals, corporations and governments. His reformative philosophy is still very much relevant in solving and resolving current problems, two and a half thousand years later. We have to sow in order to reap. The discussion continues.