Public Service and Responsibility

According to today’s headlines, the most important recommendation in the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards’ report is that bankers should be jailed for recklessness when their actions cause their institutions to fail. Quite apart from the fact that I suspect lawyers would have an ‘interesting’ time establishing criminal negligence when the decisions that lead to failure are, in most cases, group decisions of the Board or management team or whatever, I do wonder whether the media have simply seized on something that resonates with public anger rather than on something more substantive, that might actually eradicate the causes of failure as distinct from dealing with the consequences.

At the same time as we are reading about bankers comes news that the Guides are to drop references to God and country in their promises in an effort to be more ‘inclusive’. Am I alone in thinking that there may be a connection between the two, and that it has to do with the concept of public service and responsibility? The language we use to define our loyalties and to express our relationships is critically important. Our private morality, using that word in the widest sense, inevitably affects our public morality and the way we see our obligations to others. If we acknowledge no good to be served other than self, we shrink our world and our values. I have sometimes asked myself whether the decline in public standards reflects this private shift in values. As a Benedictine, my vows are publicly professed and commit me to the observance of certain standards in both public and private life. Maybe both bankers and Guides could usefully ask themselves what standards they intend to live by, too.


8 thoughts on “Public Service and Responsibility”

  1. I find it disappointing that they have dropped the reference even though I’m not an ‘active’ religious person. I just find it reduces the significance of the vows somewhat – ‘Queen and country’ was the old Victorian call to arms was it not?

    As a Brownie and a Guide – I found the moment of making those promises very profound – even though I was young at the time.

  2. I think this is because of the modern concept that things that go wrong must be ‘someone else’s fault’. No one can be made accountable for their actions, from Bankers through the Care Quality Commission to Girl Guides. As for God, He forces responsibility on humans for their actions through moral laws, so it would be best if we ignored Him at all costs!

    The public see so many ‘getting away with it’ with big payoffs and gagging compromise agreements that personal moral responsibility is disappearing.

  3. As a member of the Girl Guides in my teenage years I also find the move to remove God from the vows disappointing. It reduces the concept that some standards may be absolute to just relative and that we can define those as we will.

  4. I’m reminded of the feminist slogan that the personal is political. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that the political is personal? And that has serious implications, not least that our understanding of what it is to be a person emerged in a decidedly theological context and is rooted in belief in a personal God. Take that away and, well, things slowly begin to go off track.

    For the last few years I’ve been wondering about the relationship between a shift towards monism (which is not always easy to identify but also exists in some Christian circles) and the increasing totalitarianism of some of the demands for “inclusivity” – and whether we can really speak of human freedom if it is not rooted in the freedom of God. But these are vague thoughts and I should work them out more…

  5. Public service is something that needs to be carried out with the utmost integrity. The issue with business is the competing priorities of shareholders and the public good.

    I’m sure that there is room for integrity in public service, it’s where the line is drawn that can be an issue.

    The secular world view that is increasingly used legally in making moral judgments of public service demand a whole hearted, unquestioning obedience to the demands of a job or the service, and conscience comes a poor second.

    Those who have reservations based on faith and belief are entitled to hold them under the human rights act, but are expected to lay them aside in the interests of the public perception of the greater good. Someone in government even when as far as saying that if you had scruples based on religious belief, you should find another job. That appears to be the style and ethos of the debate being joined by government, which sadly seems to influence public opinion, for better or worse.

    I agree that if you are employed, you should have a contract which spells out the duties and responsibilities you are under, but there should also be protection for you, when you are asked to compromise your beliefs and integrity, because the law has consistently failed to provide that protection.

  6. Just to link one or two, maybe slightly disparate, thoughts:

    The overriding principle fuelling the media is profit at every level. It rides on public feeling, reactive or reactionary. The media is a reflection of ‘us’. Our Government is a reflection of ‘us’. What happens within our legal system is a reflection of ‘us’.

    I am reminded of this quote a few days ago by HH Pope Francis: ‘How many kinds of moral and material poverty we face today as a result of denying God and putting so many idols in his place!’

    The Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father) reveals a hierarchy by which everything can be measured and everything is taken care of. Whatever people feel about God, or Jesus, or the Creator, we cannot in the end deny a Creation of Intelligent Design, far outstripping anything we can contrive, a mind that belongs to an Infinity beyond telling. There can be no sense of order or reference system without it.

    Many coders become aware of the patterns of this Intelligent Design in the universe which technology has reduced to ones and zeros.

    The world is changed in ones, ones gathering other ‘ones’. Look at the ongoing ‘revolution’ begun by a handful of disciples.

    The hearts of nations can only be changed from the bottom, from people of true conviction (and prayer). In ones. Thank God for them and for the dedicated communities who inspire and bless them.

  7. I had not heard of the Guides. Strange, really. I would expect that my love of Godde automatically implies that I am inclusive.

    As to bankers… they must encounter great difficulties not following the ways of the world. And when they stop doing so, I expect they look for another sort of occupation.

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