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Ethical governance in public life in Bangladesh

Published : Wednesday, 18 May, 2022 at 12:00 AM  Count : 628
M Emdadul Haq

Ethical governance in public life in Bangladesh

Ethical governance in public life in Bangladesh

These days we experience severe lapses of ethical behaviour in public life, especially in countries like Bangladesh. What is the importance of moral behaviour in the context of Bangladesh?

Over time and space, many great philosophers and prophets contributed to expediting the virtuous life in human society. Down the road, this article discusses how philosophers describe ethics and concludes by suggesting how philosopher's thoughts can be used in the current context of Bangladesh.

What are the philosophical and religious answers to the question of unethical behaviour and practices in public life? One of the dominant views with regard to the issue of ethical governance in public life is the Western Rationalist view which focuses on individual ethical behaviour. According to this view, there would be no peace and security in the neighbourhood unless every member of society followed ethical conduct. In order to ensure ethical governance in the society, the western view focuses on combining the collective consciousness and development of the traditions of moral values that will eventually constitute acceptable social norms for the common people.

The source of the Western Rationalist views can be traced back to the Ancient Greek political thinkers. Scholars like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato were passionately searching for a rational answer for the question: how to establish a 'good life' in society? Referring to the importance of virtuous life, Socrates observed that 'an unexamined life is not worth living.' His ardent student Plato wanted to develop the control of wisdom over appetite and courage to form a harmonious soul among individuals and society. On the other hand, Aristotle argues that the goal of ethics was to determine how best to achieve happiness by living with appropriate moral values that can help find the right path toward the highest good in everyday life.

Besides classical Greek scholars, major religious traditions played a significant role in recognizing the importance of ethical behaviour at the individual level and in public life. The earliest divine laws arrived through the Ten Commandments to the Prophet Moses at Mount Sinai, ushering the ethical conduct for maintaining peace and security amongst his disdained followers during the thirteenth century BCE. The holy Al-Qur' is the continuation of that tradition where the focus has been given to humble, polite and kind behaviour and the perfection of individual character. Precisely, Islam interpreted ethics as the noble character of an individual. And thus, we see the emergence of Islamic ethics, which is related to goodness, truth, righteousness, equity, justice, and piousness.

The ethical tradition developed in China is also fascinating. For instance, Confucius (551-479 BCE) advocated benevolence, humanness, and compassion as virtuous qualities in ancient China. His philosophy portrayed morality, loyalty to social relationships, justice, and sincerity as the cardinal human principles. To Confucius, "the perfecting of oneself is the fundamental basis of all progress and moral development". Like Western ethics and Islamic ethics, Confucius emphasized gentle behaviour and unselfishness, which are must obtain qualities for an individual.

Traditionally, Hinduism and Buddhism devoted a good deal of time and energy in developing ethical conduct for human society while focusing on the wisdom of an enlightened mind. Meditating under the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya in ancient Bihar, Siddhartha Gautama advised abstinence from harming living beings, grabbing things not given, sexual misconduct, false speech, and taking intoxicating drinks and drugs that cause recklessness.

In Hinduism, the six evil qualities of the mind are sexual desire, anger, greed, arrogance, delusion, and jealousy. Both traditions argue that moral excellence emerges from the three fundamental human qualities: 'Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram' (the truth, noble, and beautiful).

In Bangladesh, we often see unethical behaviour in our individual and public. Corruption can be considered an example of such unethical behaviour. Bangladesh has been ranked 147 out of 180 in corruption by Transparency International. This data shows the extent of unethical behaviour in our country. On top of it, Bangladesh is the second most corruption-riddled country in South Asia, with Afghanistan (with a score of 16) being the worst, according to the rankings.

Considering the case of corruption in Bangladesh, ethical principles should be ingrained in our thinking process in absolute terms. Having lessons learned from the past philosophical and religious traditions, we have to use our education system to promote an ethics-based society. The fundamentals of that society should be wisdom, trustworthiness, virtuous behaviour, and generosity which are some essential qualities needed to be reflected in our public life to pursue sustainable growth and development for the future.

Most importantly, if ethical governance can be introduced in Bangladeshi society, it will enable us to distinguish between right and wrong actions and pursue what is right to do. If something is wrong such as corruption, ethical governance systems will refrain individuals from doing wrong. To conclude, we have to ensure that we will become the judges of our own mistakes instead of being a lawyer for them.
Dr M Emdadul Haq is a Professor & Chair of the Department of History & Philosophy at North South University.

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