Corrective behaviour

Any child psychologist will tell you that a person’s character is formed during the first five years or so after birth.

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During these most formative years, a child learns right from wrong, and which types of behaviour are socially acceptable and which are not. During this critical phase, any slip-up in correcting unacceptable behaviour can lead to years of trouble for a parent. These basic parenting analogies can stand us in good stead when it comes to looking at other spheres of our lives.

A manager, for instance, knows that letting a particular employee get away with laziness or unexplained absenteeism will only result in that behaviour repeating itself. 

The principle of disciplining socially unacceptable behaviour is the foundation of our justice system. An individual has  to adhere to the laws laid down and upheld by the society which he wishes to be accepted in. Unacceptable behaviour is reprimanded, or punished, with the aim of reforming your actions and forcing you to behave in a manner acceptable to the majority.

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Some ‘rules’ such as ethics and morals, being subjective, are more difficult to define and therefore tend to be more ‘malleable’ and easier to ignore. 

They also differ from one group of people to another. What is acceptable to one sub-category of society might not be acceptable to another.

To some, for instance, outwitting others with the aim of gaining power or riches is an admirable trait, something they jealously hope to one day be able to accomplish themselves. To others, it is a deplorable trait as it deprives others of a fair chance to better their lives.

The same person might also have different value systems for the different aspects of his or her lives. A businessman who reaps huge profits on the backs of lowly-paid workers and clever bookkeeping, may for instance rage against the ‘corrupt’ municipality that does not get around to fixing the potholes in his suburb.

These days you can hardly have a discussion without someone mentioning some or other negative aspect of living in South Africa – whether it is the country’s sporadic power outages, the endemic corruption or the parlous state of our economy. We’ve all heard the spin on why we’re facing each of these problems and how these problems are being ‘addressed’.

Whether we blame colonialism for our troubles or Jacob Zuma’s presidency, the fact is that we, as a society, have not been responding to what is the unacceptable behaviour of those in the wrong in a timely manner. As a result, we are together paying the price for our inaction.

Why on earth are we letting people get away with bending the law, with misusing our tax money or with not doing their job properly? And how dare we rage against these public failings when we are guilty of the same failings in some form or another in our personal lives? We curse the taxis cutting us off yet don’t think twice about breaking the speed limit.

We need to take a hard look at where we as a society want to be – and only then start to enforce that behaviour, starting with ourselves.