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Corruption: The Ultimate Cancer

Last year the purchase of a summer house in Eastern Europe subjected me to a number of corrupt activities in my attempt to consummate the deal within four months. I was appalled at how government officials expected bribery to get the necessary paper work done. As a bribe giver, I was as guilty as the bribe receiver, but I had to get the title of the property as soon as possible and return to the States to my work.


Corruption is universal. The general consensus has been that it exists in all countries.  In some countries, though, the practice is widespread and deeply entrenched in the daily lives of the society. As a result, it has become a major social issue around the world. The consequences of corruption are taking a heavy toll not only on the indignation of righteous citizens, but that it is also devitalizing, if not crippling, national economies from forward progress.


Lack of transparency, accountability and consistency coupled with weak legislative and judicial systems provide fertile ground for the growth of bribery-based activities in some countries. In addition to creating an underground parasitic economy and causing high social cost, corruption is creating adverse consequences on personal and national investment, the government budget, and on economic reforms of a nation.


In this commentary, corruption is defined as the use of public office for private gain, or use of official position, rank or status by an office bearer for his or her own personal benefit.  Based on this definition, examples of corrupt behavior would consist of bribery, extortion, fraud, embezzlement, nepotism, cronyism, appropriation of public assets and property for private use, and influence peddling.


Many articles have been written to point the ills of corruption, but only a few have offered a workable solution to shaking off the addiction. Drawing upon psychological concepts and theories, an attempt is made here to suggest a method out of the quagmire of corruption from an individual’s standpoint.


What are the cures for corruption? As there is no sure cure for cancer, likewise there is not any quick fix for corruption. Often we blame our leaders for corruption without really pinning the problem on the people, the citizenry of the country. No national leader, such as the president of a country, has the power to stop corruption in a country. There would not be enough prisons available to accommodate millions of corrupt people in his or her nation. It is the moral obligation of each and every citizen to realize that he or she is harming their country through the practice of corruption out of selfish personal reasons.


Often one hears in the former Soviet Republics and in Eastern Europe that the practice of corruption is left over from the Soviet era and that nothing could be done to eradicate the practice.  The world community has finally realized its debilitating effect on progress. This greater recognition that corruption can produce serious adverse effects on the development of an economy has sparked alarm among developing countries. In a recent survey of 150 high level officials from 60 third world counties, the respondents ranked public sector corruption as the most severe obstacle confronting their economic development prospects.


Before suggesting a method, we should first understand how corrupt behavior is formed. Fundamentally, our character is the grand total of our habits. The Greeks pondered on this issue at length thousands of years ago. Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), however, summed it up by stating that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” By the same token, if one engages in corrupt behavior repeatedly, then he or she is corrupt. Moreover, we can say that corrupt behavior is not an act, but a habit. If an official accepts bribery repeatedly, we can say that that corrupt behavior is not an act, but a habit.


As it has been expressed in the following conventional wisdom, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,” so goes the maxim.


From a psychological perspective, habits are powerful factors in our daily lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns of behavior; they constantly, almost daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness.


As Horace Mann (1796-1859), the great leader and educator, once said, “Habits are like a cable. We weave a strand of it every day and soon it cannot be broken.” I do not agree with the last statement, though. Although corrupt behavior is the ultimate cancer of a society, it is curable.  The difficulty of curing this affliction lies in the fact that corruption has been deeply embedded into the culture of a society. It would be hard, but not impossible, to change that culture.


Based on scientific psychological evidence, habits can be broken. Habits can be learned and they can be unlearned with great difficulty though. To unlearn a habit, one has to go through a regimented process and an unwavering commitment.


To quit smoking, for example, one has to go through a long process of withdrawal symptoms. Habits in general require tremendous patience and resolve most people fail to realize or admit. Breaking deeply imbedded habitual tendencies such as procrastination, impatience, criticalness, or selfishness in accepting bribery that violate basic principles of human effectiveness involves more than a little willpower and a few minor changes in our lives. It involves deep commitment and genuine love of one’s own country.


We can define a habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the “what” to do and the “why”. Skill is the “how” to do . And desire is the motivation, the “want” to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all of the three elements. Likewise, in order to unlearn or break a habit, we would also need to have the previous three elements present.


For example, I may be ineffective in my interactions with my work associates or my spouse because I constantly tell them what I think, but I never really listen to them. Unless I search out correct principles of human interaction, I may not even know I need to listen.


Even if I do know that in order to interact effectively with others, I really need to listen to them. I may not have the skill. I may not know how to really listen deeply to another human being.


But knowing I need to listen and knowing how to listen is not enough.  Unless I want to listen, unless I have the desire, it won’t be a habit in my life. Creating a habit requires work in all three dimensions.


Thus, corrupt behavior can be unlearned through the following descriptive formula: UC = f(KxSxM); UC= this means to unlearn corrupt behavior or to break the habit, it is the function of the intersection of K= knowledge, S= skills, and M=motivation.


Very briefly, Mr. or Ms. Corrupt citizen should have Knowledge of what the problem is orwhat are the consequences of corrupt behavior, etc. the citizen should realize that the stakes are high for himself as well as for his nation. For himself, he would be running the risk of losing his job and being sent to jail. For his nation, corruption means devitalizing the economy for many years to come. Every corrupt act would be akin to driving a nail in the coffin of one’s country’s economy.


As for Skills, the citizen should seek ways to unlearn the habit. Post notes on your desk which remind to say “Nyet” or “Nein” to bribery. Reward yourself with something you like every time you refuse to accept any bribery. Try to reinforce the will power in your to avoid engaging in corrupt behavior. Every individual has his or her way of using personal skills to deal with the unlearning of a habit.


Finally, for Motivation, the citizen should visualize himself as being respected as a righteous person, by his fellow citizens, by his family and friends. A self-respect emanating from the realization of being a true citizen contributing positively to the progress of his country by not engaging in corrupt behavior would serve as the powerful psychological inner satisfaction of doing something right. It is the duty of every citizen to consider corruption as the ultimate cancer gnawing at the development of their country’s bid to progress.


Dr. Turan Senguder, our Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer and Dr. Stewart L. Tubbs, our Chairperson along with our highly dedicated Editorial Board members, salute and wish the best of luck to  those individuals and leaders who are doing something to get rid of the cancer of corruption in their countries as well as in international business.



Z. S. Demirdjian, Ph.D.

Senior Review Editor

California State University, Long Beach, CA

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