You are on page 1of 8

Peter Schier

On Moral Values, Ethical Standards,

Leadership And Good Governance

Malaysian Institute of Management (ed.),

Universal Values and Human Renewal A Reader,
Kuala Lumpur 2004, pp. 244-253

Recently, the well-known US social psychologist Prof Dr Robert Levine

concluded a 6-years-long international study on the level of friendliness and
willingness of people living in 23 cities around the globe to help people in
need. Guess what city got the worst rating? Kuala Lumpur ended up at the
very last place, even ranking behind New York which came second last. The
well-to-do people of Singapore known to be all but soft-hearted came in
third last.
Topping the list of helpfulness are the people of Rio de Janeiro (Brasil), a
crowded mega-city with a high percentage of people living in poverty and
large slums unknown in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere in Malaysia. Yet, the
people of Rio de Janeiro were found to be much more friendly and helpful
than the people living in Kuala Lumpur. Even more surprising, the people of
Lilongwe, the small capital of the African state of Malawi which is one of the
poorest countries in the world, came in third shortly after San Jos (Costa
Rica) and in front of slum-ridden Calcutta (India) and the European cities of
Vienna, Madrid and Copenhagen.
Obviously, the practice of good common moral values like kindness,
compassion, honesty, and justice, etc. is not dependent on economic or
technological development and on the standard of living.
There can be no doubt that Kuala Lumpur and the whole of Malaysia have,
during the time of leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad,
undergone an outstanding economic, infrastructure and technological

development. The highest twin towers in the world and top quality streets all
over the country are just two examples for this breathtaking leap forward.
In fact, Malaysia is, by far, the most developed country in Southeast Asia (not
considering Singapore because of its special city state character).
However, it seems, that during the process of development a number of
good traditional moral values and ethical standards have been partly lost:

Criminality seems to be on the rise, whereas law enforcement appears

to be getting weaker.









transparency and accountability appear to be in danger to become

the exception rather than the rule. Early this year (2003) the Kuala
Lumpur Society for Transparency and Integrity (KLSTI) had to choose
three dead persons for the National Integrity Award because it seems
that KLSTI could not find sufficiently clean personalities within the
ranks of the living leaders.

Even in the spiritual field a growing tendency towards false holiness and
pure formalism without sticking to the core principles and values can
be observed.

As common values have not been stressed enough in the education

system, relations between the different religious and ethnic groups are

Last but not least, the pollution of the natural environment has reached
a stage where the health of a growing number of people is directly
threatened by very poor water or/and air quality. The destruction of
forests and hills has resulted in mortal landslides and floodings.
Definitively, we are behaving irresponsibly with regard to the planet
which we shall inherit to our children and grandchildren.

In fact, most of these phenomena in the development process of capitalism

or market economy are not new. All materially and technologically

developed countries have faced and are still facing a more or less serious
problem of degradation of moral values and ethical standards. This problem
is neither confined to the West nor to the East. It is universal. All of us, Asians,
Europeans, Africans, Americans etc., are facing it.
The basic reasons for the degradation of moral values in many economically
and technologically developed countries are

the lack of social, ecological and ethical restrictions on the market

economy system,

the lack of political leaders who practise what they preach about the
social, ecological and ethical responsibilities of public and corporate
leaders, and

the lack of good moral and ethical education at home and in the
kindergardens, schools, colleges and universities, especially the lack of
education in the common core values we all share: peace, freedom,
justice, respect for life and nature, kindness, friendship, love and
compassion, forgiveness, humility, empathy, honesty, sincerity, integrity
and accountability, etc.

If we let the so-called market forces develop in an unbridled way, the only
rule of the market would be excessive profiteering. Then, everything including
humans would be sacrificed on the altar of the free market and
development. This is no exaggeration. In fact, the trade in minor virgins and
boys is already a gruesome reality in a number of countries as is the illegal
trade in transplants for the sheer sake of greed for profit.
We at the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation (KAF) stand firmly against that
unbridled free market economy which is prevalent not only in the US but also
in a number of developing countries some of which are verbally quite anti-US
but nonetheless follow the US development concept without talking about it.
In contrast to that, KAF has always been strongly committed to the unique
German concept of Social Market Economy (Soziale Marktwirtschaft)






economic, social, ecological and moral development of human society.

Although we are convinced proponents of a secular state, we believe in the

necessity of good morals and ethics based on a faith in a Supreme Divine
Being or Ultimate Reality responsible for the existence and fate of the
Universe and humankind. The values we stand for are derived from both the
Catholic Christian Social Teachings and the Protestant Christian Ethics.
However, we are open to all faiths and belief systems, even to non-believers,
as long as they subscribe in words and deeds to the universal values of
peace, freedom, justice, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Leadership is the art of mobilizing or inspiring people to achieve certain goals.
A key element of responsible leadership is the determination to change
society in a way that will benefit society as a whole. Present and future
leaders who want to be remembered positively by the people they rule
should learn that there is more to strive for than just profit, power and
pleasure. Similarly, transparency of decision-making and accountability
should be central to a responsible leaders mission.
It is important to remember that leadership is not necessarily only about the
actions of people in positions of political power but also about those in
society who hold positions of advocacy and who draw their influence
primarily from moral persuasion. In addition, leaders of enterprises play a
more and more important role at all levels of human society. Their
performance has direct effects on the social life and the natural environment
in which their enterprises are active.
One very important requirement for responsible and successful leadership in
all fields of society is that leaders have to materialize their commitments. If
leaders really practise what they preach their power of persuasion will be
high and they shall be respected. Conversely, if a corrupt leader asks his
subordinates not to indulge in corruption he shall not be convincing and he
shall, therefore, not be able to reduce corruption. He might even be despised
and not re-elected by the people. Or, if a leader talks a lot about peace but,
at the same time, his government continues to buy a substantial amount of
weapons his motives will be questioned. Therefore, Cakap serupa bikin is
the magic formula for sustainable success as a leader.

In the global context, educating future leaders in global matters is

increasingly important. It is necessary to expose them to different cultures and
religions so that they get a better understanding about the world surrounding
them and that they become able to differentiate and do not have one-sided







Hindus, Buddhists, Jews etc. Leaders with a frog-sitting-in-the-well

perspective will have no future in a globalizing world.
It is especially important to educate future leaders in the common values
which all the different civilizations and faiths share. These common moral
values and ethical standards constitute a humane ethic, or, the ethic of
humanity. In view of the process of globalization this ethic of humanity has
been termed by the famous Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kng as
global ethic.
There can be no doubt that a globalizing world needs a globalization of
moral values and ethical standards, in short: a global ethic. This is not a new
religion but a set of common moral values and ethical standards which are
shared by all faiths. Without a basic consensus over ethics any society is
threatened sooner or later by chaos or a dictatorship. Therefore, there can
be no sustainable world order without a global ethic.
In the words of Hans Kng a global ethic means neither a global ideology,
nor a single unified global religion transcending all existing religions, nor a
mixture of all religions. Humanity is weary of unified ideologies, and in any
case the religions of the world are so different in their views of faith and
dogmas, their symbols and rites, that a unification of them would be
meaningless, a distasteful syncretistic cocktail.
Instead, a global ethic seeks to work out what is already common to the
religions of the world now despite their differences over human conduct,
moral values and basic moral convictions. In other words, a global ethic does
not reduce the religions to an ethical minimalism but represents the minimum
of what the religions of the world already have in common now in the ethical
sphere. It is not directed against anyone, but invites all, believers and nonbelievers, to make this ethic their own and act in accordance with it.

What are the basic contents of that global ethic?

In fact, the global ethic can be summarized in one precept: Treat others as
you would like to be treated or Do not treat others as you would not like to
be treated. That is the so-called GOLDEN RULE which is found in the
scriptures of all major faiths in different words but with the same divine

No one of you is a believer

until you desire for your neighbour
that which you desire for yourself.


Treat all creatures as you would like to be treated.


Do not do to others
what you do not want them to do to you


This is the essence of morality:

Do not do to others
which if done to you would cause you pain


Whatever you wish that others do to you, do so to them.


Do as you desire goodness for yourself

as you cannot expect tasty fruits if you sow thorny trees.


If your eyes be turned towards justice

choose for your neighbour
that which you would choose for yourself.


What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour

- that is the basic law, all the rest is commentary.

Without any doubt, the GOLDEN RULE is the fundamental ethical standard on
earth. It can be characterized as the basic law of human coexistence. All
other precepts derive from this mother of ethics as I would call this
fundamental law of humanity, for example:

Have respect for all life, or You shall not kill

(As you do not want others to kill you, therefore you should not kill

Deal honestly and fairly, or You shall not steal

(As you do not want others to steal your belongings, therefore you
should not steal their belongings.)

Speak and act truthfully, or You shall not lie

(As you do not want others to lie to you, therefore you should not lie to

Respect and love one another, or You shall not commit sexual
(As you do not want others to take your wife, therefore you should not
take the wives of others.)

There are many other moral values and ethical standards which are shared
by all faiths, like the respect of human rights, love, compassion, environment
protection, integrity and accountability. And, there are a number of
behaviours which are regarded by all faiths as sinful. Corruption, for example,
is viewed as being equivalent to stealing other peoples money and lying to
the public. No world religion, no faith and no philosophical belief system
allows stealing and lying.
Prophet Muhammad clearly stated that it is bribery to give gifts to an officer
(in return for a favour). He even predicted that the one who gives bribes
and the one who is bribed will be in hell.
About 1.000 years earlier, Confucius had already said: Wealth gained by
unrighteousness will not last. And the famous Taoist philosopher Laotze had
even declared: To accumulate wealth and treasures in excess is equivalent
to robbery and crime.
In fact, all intercultural and interfaith discussions organized since 2002 in
Malaysia by the Malaysian Interfaith Network (MIN) with the support of the

Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation have identified corruption, nepotism, cronyism

and lack of good governance as being amongst the major common
concerns of people of different ethnical and religious backgrounds. Similarly,
transparency, integrity, accountability, honesty, sincerity and responsibility
have been indentified as being amongst the most important common moral
values and ethical standards of the various faiths and cultures.
The great Hindu politician Mahatma Gandhi once described the seven
social sins of humankind, amongst them:

politics without (ethical) principles,

business without morality,

wealth without work,

education without character,

science without humanity.

All of these social sins have, to a certain extent, to do with good governance.
It is, therefore, of utmost importance, that present and future leaders have to
bear in mind the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. That means, amongst others,
that we have not only to teach ourselves and our children the common
moral values and ethical standards of humankind but we have also to
practise this global ethic and make sure that our young generations will
adhere to it.
Let us all, especially the leaders, become more responsible for the future of
Mother Earth and of humankind and contribute to reduce the social sins
described above in our societies both in the east and in the west, both in the
south and in the north. Only then, our children, grandchildren and great
grandchildren could be really thankful to us. If we fail, they have all reason to
despise us.