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Human values: The wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi

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The world keeps talking about going ‘back to the basics’, to the essentials in order to keep societies stable. Even complex highly developed societies are re-thinking social values.

Meanwhile, for a good reason or otherwise, societies seem disenchanted with their leaders — they have serious concerns with the behaviour of their young generations and roundly worried about productivity. It is hence not that surprising that the world is retracing its foundations, dipping deeper into past values in order to correct the present and hopefully guarantee a better future.

Moving forward with our re-invigoration of the value-system, I first present what will be my frame of reference for the subsequent three entries based upon what one man that I deeply admire, the enigmatic Mahatma Gandhi says.

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Many years ago, Gandhi highlighted seven human behaviours of a social and political nature which he said would ultimately destroy human kind, namely wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; religion without sacrifice; politics without principle; science without humanity and business without ethics.

Let’s start with the first two observations as applied to our own situation

Many Malawians young and old hate to work and yet they so avidly crave for wealth and good life. Far too many people in our society spend time mastering the art of getting money, material wealth and properties from no significant work at all.

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Call it greed, theft or selfishness, but we have far too many people who adopt a get-rich-fast approach to life and exert so much negative pressure

on collectively owned resources so that everything works in their favour.

It is not uncommon for public executives, business people or urban youth among others to make money and at the same time actively seek to avoid or evade tax or other legally binding payments that they must pay. Those who succeed are celebrated as geniuses.

For many urban young people, the ‘culture of deals’ has become so entrenched that it is a form of legitimate employment, and it increases with urbanisation and deepening urban poverty. Young people of the present generations have mastered the value of money and the quick cash culture, often times compromising their education, morality and humanness.

Young people have destroyed their lives through long jail sentences or vindictive violence by those who have been ripped off. Quick money schemes and criminality not only lead to physical harm, they tend to poison the conscience with immoral judgements, distortions of facts and reality, moving many people away from laws, moral values and principles of social justice.

What is worse is that the bulk of today’s young people are growing up without a work ethic as are many adults who are always looking for someone to blame for their plight. In other words, many young people do not see the moral value of work, nor do they see work as a necessary part of self-expression, character development and contribution to national development.

On this matter, I am not sure about you reader but I actually wonder whether young people — or for that matter, adults — realise that it is work that contributes to national development. I just think it’s all about personal benefit!

Making money from no work is the reason we hear of public servants, civil society organisations and even private companies designing ‘ghost workshops’ for fast labour-free cash; it is why we hear of public executives and or politicians claiming huge external travel allowances without attending the conferences they should attend.

You see, we now have a generation of young people who have no interest in learning; what we have in the majority are children without a clear perspective on how to make money legitimately let alone how to use money properly. So few youth are ever serious about education, training and using money maturely even if they could

The iniquitous wealth without work is exacerbated by the drive for equally sinful pleasure without conscience. Far too many people including a growing number of youth seek pleasure in proportions which are self-destroying due to lack of controls and a too loose interpretation of what constitutes ‘good life’.

Over the years thousands of young people have failed to obtain an education due to drugs, alcohol, casual sex and other behaviours they consider fun. Malawi has lost a large part of its young generation to un-guarded fun and excessive consumerism believing that education has no bearing on accumulation of wealth. Numerous young people from well to do families have turned into lifelong liabilities; many more have died — needlessly.

In the same manner, far too many adults seek pleasure to extents of blatant escapism, tending to neglect family responsibilities and depriving innocent children of balanced parenting necessary for them to achieve in life.

Lack of conscience has not just escalated sexual abuse of girls and boys — against inconceivably light sentences of the perpetrators — it has reduced that which is divinely endowed to self-exploitation and gross entertainment. Terrible moral tragedies!

Numerous people have been driven into fraud to sustain lives of excessive pleasures in total disregard of others who are affected, their own sanity and morality. Yet being human we are always called upon to train our conscience and to live for others as much we live for own selves.

There is egoism and self-gratification to a fault. After all the wise say a person is measured not so much by what they gain or by their wealth but by how much they give and care about others. Interdependent living for human kind has much more meaning and purpose, be it in families or with friends.

Pleasure seeking may be seen as wholesome fun, but it only destroys reputations, injures many around us and reduces the potential of our own productivity.

Sadly, a lot of this self-debasing behaviour is labelled development. Well it is not. It may be change, but change is not always development.

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