Tag Archives: bribery

The root of all evil

For those of you that need a purpose for a post, you may want to skip this one.

I don’t have any answers. Just musings and thoughts.

About money.

Money is not a topic of polite conversation. One I shouldn’t broach. But it has been bubbling beneath the surface frequently over the last few months. And I’ve been listening, paying attention (which is not always the case with me). Having spent time in West Africa, then Paris, then Peru, I feel like I have some sort of ‘Cost-Of-Living Whiplash’.

Walking down the Champs-Elysées while we were in Paris, I was struck by the volumes of wealth, and the stark contrast to the trash-littered, dirt streets of Conakry. Both cities are home to two million people, give or take a few. The differences, resulting from money, are staggering, and affect every facet of their lives.

Unlike Mother Teresa, I’m no saint. (As if there was EVER any question.)

Unlike her, I’ve not taken a vow of poverty. I’ve got absolutely nothing against having and spending money. Lots of money. As I said in, “The important things in life“, I love pretty things. The more sparkly, the better.  Who I am inside, who I was made to be, feels refreshed and deeply pleased, and a little giddy, when I am surrounded by beauty. My soul is fed. I’m also deeply motivated by helping others be successful – to make money. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.

But, likewise, I have nothing against having no money. Living without. Barely making ends meet. Knowing hunger. Suffering.

None of those scenarios have to do with a person’s value.

However, there were many times in my life I got that confused, and wasn’t comfortable letting people know how ‘poor’ I really was. The same goes for being known as ‘wealthy’. And I’m going to resist the urge to explain how rich or poor I was, although I’m dying to. Because, as I just said, it doesn’t matter.

And money being unrelated to our value is a really important lesson to internalize.

And it’s easy to judge people living in filth to have less value. Or at least, less intelligence. But, as the (brilliant) husband of my dear friend Susan pointed out, “Cleanliness is a luxury for those not focused on survival”.

It’s nothing to do with intelligence. Or value.

I have no greater value than the Mama I watched, as she put her little kiddo’s ‘to bed’ on a piece of cardboard on the side of the city street. (It’s been 7 months, but it still hurts to remember her.)

I know that we all, myself included, long for money to pay the bills and live in a manner we choose. And while money protects us from certain pains, it doesn’t protect us from others. It can’t buy time. It can’t mend a broken heart. Can’t remove hate, fear, or doubt. But, it can add vast complexities, fears, responsibilities, guilt, and a deep distrust of others. Especially after one more person asks for a donation. Or there’s an Op Ed about you, again, that’s not true. Or another family member asks for a favor and somehow ends up the twenty-ninth person on your taxes. (No exaggeration. I’ve a friend with that many family members on her taxes.) Or, a ‘friend’ drops your name at every opportunity, and has not ever even offered to pick up the tab when you go out together.

From what I’ve seen in the places we’ve stayed this year, money is no indicator of personal success.

And, money is no predictor of happiness.

And, success is NOT dependent on money.

The people of Conakry, with all their poverty (not the guy with a suitcase of cash and his own money handler/counter), have volumes to teach about true success.

And having spent this week in the jungles of the Amazon, I saw stark, raw, poverty, at every turn of the river.

And, joy.

These kids lived in a one room shack on stilts, but sill aroused envy from my 10 and 7 year olds. They have dream pets (a baby caiman and a sloth)! And not a single toy.

As my friend Dan said last week, after a run through Conakry, “Imagine you live in a country where it starts raining in May and doesn’t really stop until September. Your job is outside. You cook outside. You live outside. But, because of flooding, raw sewage and garbage flow through the streets. In most cities, a disaster would be declared and huge amounts of resources would be used to bring relief. But for West Africa, this is just life. As I was running, I saw people huddled under any shelter they could find. Chatting, and SMILING, even LAUGHING!

…Take a moment to realize that circumstances always change. They are like the wind. But our attitude can stay the same no matter what. I will always know that I really needed Africa and its lessons of contentment, more than they ever needed me and my medical training.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Isn’t that that true?

Hasn’t Dan grasped the meaning of true wealth?

I’m guessing he has true success – that he wakes up in the morning with his soul at peace. Just like the people he saw laughing in the midst of the sewage and the rain. Just like the countless people I saw along, what I perceived as the ‘filthy waters’ of the Amazon River, swimming and washing and bathing and laughing.

I think money is a fantastic tool, that when used wisely, can have a huge impact. For good. Even GREAT things. I also think that having lots of money comes with an equivalent amount of responsibility, to use it wisely.

I do believe that whoever loves money never has enough. And will never find the success Dan has.

I also believe that having huge amounts of skill and talent, come with the same responsibility to be used wisely. And this is where most of us aren’t as successful. We forget, or get lazy, or don’t put the same careful planning, into spending our talents. We ignore our obligation to use them wisely.

Even though most of us long to be part of something bigger, to use our skill to make an impact in the world, it’s usually easier to let life keep flowing forward, like the current of the Amazon River, with us floating on the surface. I know it would be easier for me. I have to work willfully, which is a nice way to say work really HARD, at directing my giftings in a way that both honors me and helps make our world a much more beautiful place.

When I find that balance, and use my skill and my money to be true to who I am, while making an impact in the lives of others, I have a sense of overwhelming satisfaction. And balance. It’s the same feeling as running, in the early morning, when the adrenaline finally kicks in, and the sun pokes through the Seattle clouds and shines right on me, warming my whole being.

So I have to disagree.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. It doesn’t have any value of its own.

It isn’t the path to success or happiness.

It doesn’t bring joy.

Yes, it can shield us from the hardships of poverty—it can ensure pristine cleanliness. And yes, it can be used as a tool to accomplish mighty things.

But, necessary to any great impact that money can have…

—Is the use of a compassionate heart, a good mind, and wise use of our skills.

———————————————————–

I’ve seen the bottom

And I’ve been on top

But mostly I’ve lived in between

And where do you go

When you get to the end of your dream?

~Jeff Munroe

 

And, don’t ever forget, someone else being rich, doesn’t make you poor!

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Filed under June 2013

No answers here

 

While driving through Guinea in a car with the Mercy Ships logo emblazoned on the sides, we were often stopped by police. Sometimes it was for medical advice. A couple of times it was to say thank you for helping a family member.

Usually, it was asking for money.

Twice, when riding with locals, the police weren’t very friendly. And could not be cajoled out of their demands. They took the car registration and drivers licenses of the people I was with. Until bribes were paid. My friends didn’t mind much. They were pleased to get their papers back without too much fuss or delay. The money was handed over happily, and the papers were returned with complete attitude adjustments that included a smile and respectful nod. (Wish it was that easy with my kids’ attitudes which frequently need adjustment.)

While the seeming injustice of this would have angered me in the past, I no longer see bribery as black and white. You see, I’ve learned some of the police are paid no salary. And all those I saw were on foot, without a squad car in sight. They pay for a uniform, and have some training to uphold the local law, but are expected to use their authority to make their living. My local friends knew this, and didn’t begrudge paying their part in the system to support the police officers, by giving them money to feed their families.

A western doctor friend of mine, carries cash with her each day, to pay the requested bribes she encounters.

There are some definite benefits to the system.  If you pay an officer, you can have the street outside your house closed at night, and heavily protected against possible vandals or intruders.  Or, for someone like me, who’s always in a hurry, I love that you can pay, a relatively small sum, to have the street of your choice changed to one-way, going the direction you prefer.  Of course that’s fun in theory (for me anyway), and while most of the time I found it hilarious in practice, it can be extremely dangerous. And the time I spent two hours completely immobilized in traffic as my one-way street ran head-on into three lanes of traffic coming at us from the opposite direction, it wasn’t so fun. And maybe not so smart either. But somebody was having a good time counting their money while cars, buses, semi-trucks, and motorcycles, inched their way out of that mess. Some did U-turns. Some, like the city bus, used their size, and the road shoulder, to just keep on coming, while we slowly got out of their way.

But, as we know, corruption isn’t always so harmless.

Guinea has a long history of allowing officials to loot its treasury. During the last years of ex-President Lansana Conte’s rule, employees of the treasury said they would regularly see the president’s convoy drive up to their building and leave with bags of cash.

Ok, I know that sounds fun.

But, so very wrong.

Guinea’s current president, Alpha Conde, with his zero tolerance for corruption, appointed Mrs. Boiro as Head of his Treasury. She launched an investigation into the recent loss of 13 million francs ($1.8 million) which went missing from the state coffers. While I was there, she was gunned down in her car, and killed, in what her colleagues describe as a brazen assassination aimed at silencing her.~ AP. Conakry, Guinea November 10, 2012.

Many locals feel that since Mrs. Boiro’s murder, Conakry is becoming more and more lawless. Some even wonder if Guinea might not be better off run by a strongman than a well-educated humanitarian–someone who is able to keep order with an iron fist.

I don’t know the answer to that. But even asking the question saddens me.

Realistically, I wonder what the motivation is for those in power in Guinea, and many countries like it, to usher in change, and progress. What would motivate them to share power and wealth downward? To get rid of the corruption? There is a level of society that lives above the law, that has huge wealth and power, and access to education, medical care, and luxuries that I can only dream of. Where is the benefit to them?

Corruption isn’t bad for those on the top and middle of the chain. It’s impossible for the man on the bottom of the chain. When the local dockworker earns $1/day, and has to bribe the dock security at the beginning AND end of each day, then it’s impossible for him to earn a living. To get ahead. It’s those at the bottom of the chain that feel helpless. Who wait for someone or something to deliver them.

While the situation in Guinea has no easy answers, I’m not without hope. When I first visited neighboring Ghana in 1991, driving across the border into the country was like crossing over into a barren and ruined land. But, now they are the success story of the region, with development and infrastructure, and stability.

So, I’m not giving up.

As Bono says, “If you want to turn the world right side up, it’s going to take your whole life.”

This is a journey, right?

At this season of reflections and resolutions, what are you committing your life to? Where is your journey taking you? Take a look at what your actions are saying.

Join me in committing to make choices that will help turn the world ‘right side up’. To help bring peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind.

Please.

*I must give credit to Susan Parker, for blatantly plagiarizing her account of Mrs. Boiro’s murder, and the inspiring verse I used in the close above. They’re taken from her column in this month’s Navigator on the Africa Mercy. See, corruption really is rampant. I’m going to have to start with some serious housekeeping in my own life.

 

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Filed under January 2013