Tue | Dec 6, 2022

Basil Jarrett | Loyalty vs fairness

Published:Thursday | September 29, 2022 | 12:06 AM
The typical organisation loses five per cent of revenues in a given year as a result of fraud.
The typical organisation loses five per cent of revenues in a given year as a result of fraud.
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Retired Justice Seymour Panton disclosed during a Gleaner interview last August that citizens’ refusal to testify against criminals and wrongdoers is a major cause of failures of the justice system, declaring that a critical mass of Jamaicans, in one way or another, support the perpetrators of crime. Justice Panton’s position should not raise many eyebrows as Jamaicans have long held an uncomfortable relationship with criminals and unscrupulous individuals, especially in circumstances where some of the ill-gotten gains have trickled down to their own benefit.

“Whether we want to accept it or not, a significant segment of the population supports criminality because they see things and say nothing,” said the former president of the Court of Appeal, criticising Jamaicans for not coming forward more readily to give truthful statements.

At the Jamaica Bankers Association Annual Anti-Fraud Seminar a few Thursdays ago, Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn shared similar sentiments, urging compliance and security officers, particularly those working in sectors susceptible to fraud such as finance and manufacturing, to ditch the “friend and company attitude”, saying it was a likely facilitator of the rise in fraudulent activities detected in Jamaica over the past year.

Part of the reason for Jamaica‘s uncomfortable relationship with criminals and dishonest persons is an internal struggle that a lot of people face, between doing what’s right and doing what’s loyal. Persons who know about wrongdoing are faced with the arduous task of balancing doing the right thing against doing the loyal thing. Staying quiet may mean retaining a lifelong friendship, a beneficial relationship or simply repaying a past debt. A justification is then made for keeping silent, even though deep down they know that what they are turning a blind eye to is wrong. Essentially, we are moral hypocrites, trumpeting moral values when judging others, but conveniently ignoring it when our own self-interest, or the self-interest of our friends and peers, is at stake.

The question then arises, what role does a sense of loyalty versus a sense of fairness play in a person’s decision to report an unlawful act, and how can law enforcement or the justice system encourage persons to “do the right thing” when faced with such a moral dilemma?

Although much has been done from a legislative and policy perspective to advance the cause of empowering and protecting whistleblowers, it is pointless to pursue these processes unless we properly understand the psychological determinants at play here.

A COMPLICATED CHOICE

In many instances, the choice is obvious, and in others, it’s a bit more complicated. Do I ignore someone’s dishonesty, as a show of loyalty or repayment for a past favour?

Or do I subject myself to the bile, venom and blacklisting that will come from my peers, friends and social circles, by speaking up and speaking out? The problem is further exacerbated as organisations continue to invest heavily in building corporate culture, teamwork and group cohesion, enhancing on one hand, organisational synergy and fellowship, but on the other, making it more difficult to speak out in the face of unethical conduct by colleagues. To do the right thing by exposing misconduct, one may become a hero to one set of people, but a treacherous pariah, barred, ostracised, condemned, and cast out of the company by another. As I said, it’s complicated.

But life is about enduring tension and balancing conflicting values. As a military being, I have grown to become comfortable in discomfort. It is a mindset that my civilian friends never really understood. Who in his right mind runs towards gunfire, chases chaos or chooses to take up arms in the defence of strangers or in defence of something as abstract as principle? As admirable a quality as it sounds, the sad reality is that we are not all imbued with this mindset and so, it is overly simplistic to expect that your average, vanilla-flavoured Jamaican will readily put himself in harm’s way, to defend something as subjective as ethical or moral behaviour.

The battle between doing what’s fair and doing what’s loyal therefore, is a personal one, the outcome of which is decided by the weight one puts on these two conflicting values. Fairness and justice mean that all persons are treated equally. Loyalty however, implies preferential treatment of one group over another. Intrinsically, we all have a sense of right and wrong, but unfortunately, where the pendulum typically swings, depends largely on the closeness of the relationship between ourselves and the offender. Those considerations aren’t so easily overridden.

REFRAMING LOYALTY

So how do we help to correct this? One suggestion is to recast and reframe loyalty in terms of a greater allegiance to society and to community. In other words, speaking out must be seen more as demonstrating loyalty to a higher, more universal social group, where the rewards benefit the collective rather than the connected. Yes, I know that this suggestion is idealistic and utopian, especially in the context of a dog-eat-dog Jamaica where each day is a fight for scarce benefits and fleeting spoils. But these values are absolutely critical if we want to create a society that has a lower tolerance for the social ills of crime, corruption and dishonesty.

I am encouraged therefore by the education minister’s recent declaration that civics will be reintroduced to schools, as there is a palpable need to re-educate our young people around their duties, rights and obligations to a just society.

Another suggestion may be to move the conversation from simply encouraging and emphasising fairness in corporate codes of ethics, messages and ad campaigns, towards further empowering individuals to report inappropriate behaviour via established whistleblowing mechanisms. Organisations should therefore invest equally in messaging and communicating around whistleblowing, as they do in creating reporting mechanisms that are safe, confidential and above all, acted on.

Major Basil Jarrett is a communications strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting, a communications consulting firm specialising in crisis communications and reputation management. Please send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com