I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had diligently planned the business trip for several weeks. The ticket was paid for, foreign currency purchased, and trip details planned. Just as I was about to go to bed the night before, I did a last minute check. It was then that I realized my yellow fever vaccination card had expired! I knew the said country was pretty fussy about it. With a sinking feeling, I realized that despite all my planning, there was a possibility I might be sent back home or not even allowed on the flight at all! To make things worse, my ticket was non refundable. What a nightmare!
As I perused the card, I saw a possible way out. A simple change would put its expiry date well within my travel dates. Coincidentally, I had a pen of the exact color required. What a fortuitous turn of events! I gratefully changed the date before slipping into bed.
Ever had times when you felt the pressure justified a moral shortcut? You’re running late for a meeting and feel compelled to overlap. Or a cop stops you and asks for a bribe and your option is to miss that important interview. Or the procurement officer wants a cut before your company gets the deal. Or you so badly want that deal that you’re tempted to give your client a deadline that you know is completely unrealistic.
Most people agree that grand corruption is a huge threat to this nation’s future. We speak with disgust about the Goldenberg and Anglo leasing scandals or more recently of looting in Westgate by security officials. What we often fail to do is tie our ‘moral shortcuts’ to the larger problems of grand corruption. And yet the only difference between our personal every-day corruption and grand national-level corruption is simply the scale of the opportunity!
Character has been defined as ‘who you are when no one’s looking’. That moral shortcut you’re facing today may not seem huge. And yes it’s possible that no one else will be harmed by it. It’s even possible no one else will ever know about it. But you will. And when you compromise in the little things, you will likely compromise in the big ones as well.
That night, after I changed the date, I couldn’t sleep! Eventually I confessed my misdeed to my wife who advised me to drive to a hospital and get a new vaccination. I was eventually home after midnight. To my amazement when I landed the next day, the immigration official stamped my passport without asking for the card! The best part though was a clear conscience and the knowledge that I had made the right choice even though it was certainly the more difficult one.
American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said ‘The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.’ Decide today to do make the right decision. Even if it’s the more difficult one!