Any discussion on morality these days will reap varied responses. There are those who will argue that everything is relative hence there is no morality or the highest good for individuals and community that is to be pursued at all cost. Then, there are those who will be of the view that context determines one’s morality and, like the relativity mentioned before, it is specific cultures, contexts or situations which ultimately determine right or wrong. Another group of persons, the religious, will say all morality is of God and from God and includes the task of keeping the good always before us in whatever we do or say. Still others will say none of this discussion is relevant since all that is required is accepting the humanity of self and others and ensuring we do unto others that which we would personally appreciate.
As principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour, morality addresses important or significant issues (matters) which affect human life on a day-to-day basis. Right and wrong are the things we think about and act upon based on either self- interest or the interest of a group while good and bad relate to emotions which are also translated into actions and activities that enhance or destroy individuals, groups and communities.
Principles such as valuing each human life and acting in ways which help rather than destroy individuals, groups and communities are the reasons for questioning the behaviour of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Recent reports in the media of his resignation suggest his behaviour is appalling. As a public official, one who has been educated and socialized in some of the most respected and prestigious institutions in the United Kingdom, it seems the Prime Minister sought to operate on the basis of meritocracy rather than human dignity. Leaders of all walks of life, and especially those in government, are expected to behave in such a way that there is clear indication of respect for the humanity of others, an affirmation of social good and a commitment to service for the common good.
Yet, it seems the notion that some persons have right of access or merit privileged positions while others are left to eke out a living under extremely difficult conditions, seem to have been lost in the process of gaining power at all cost. Positions of privilege and the notion that some persons can do as they please and get away with it seem to have been the modus operandi of Johnson for a number of years. Now his colleagues in the British Parliament have said enough is enough or, as former Jamaican prime minster, Hon. P. J. Patterson is reputed to have said “time come”.
The time has come for those who feel they have right of access to run rough shod over the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable, to recognize that morality matters, which means the dignity of human beings cannot be treated like a toy but rather must be respected and celebrated. No doubt there must be a role for Johnson in the British society since it helped to shape and mould him into the person he is today. Likewise, there must be national, social and communal reckoning for the wrongs committed by Johnson and others in pursuit of power at all cost. For example, the picture of Johnson and colleagues drinking at a party at the Prime Minister’s official residence in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions is a smack in the face of all that is known about decency and decorum. His resignation, therefore, shows that in the final analysis, the people in the UK, generally, and his colleague parliamentarians, in particular, understand that principles still count for something and morality matters.
Two key lessons in morality can be drawn from the resignation of the UK prime minister. First, is the importance of integrity. It is vital that leaders understand they are not laws unto themselves, and they are ultimately accountable to the public with a responsibility to bring communities together rather than fracture them. This is the reason, in the parliamentary system of government, that political leaders are referred to as ministers. These are servants of the people called to provide guidance and support to those who elected them as well as others in the wider community. Policies and laws rather than personal interest must, therefore, be at the forefront of the actions and activities of politicians.
Second, is the significance of humility. Humus or dust is the root word for humility and implies that the human body is made up of particles like dust which can be easily dissolved. With this in mind, leaders should take note of lessons from the popular memory gem which says “It is a great thing to be humble when you are brought low, but to be humble when you are praised is a great and rare attainment”. It is very easy for leaders to get “swell-headed” or arrogant in positions of power and forget the purpose for which they were called, and that is service to the people.
People and morality matter. People are at the centre of any political system so whether in the UK, Jamaica or anywhere in the world service above self is significant as it provides a platform for integrating all aspects of people’s lives for the greater good. In the final analysis therefore to say morality matters is to recognize the importance of honesty, decency and values in the development of a society and nation.
Rev Garth Minott is the Bishop of Kingston.