Sometime ago one of my regular patients needed a prescription for antibiotics. He asked me to write the prescription in his cousin’s name as that cousin had health insurance. I refused, explaining that it was not only illegal, but dishonest to write prescriptions like that. Predictably he countered that other doctors had done so for him in the past. To which I replied: “Well this doctor does not do that.”
He was quiet as I started writing the prescription. Then, he asked me what I thought of our new government. Thinking he had changed the subject, I replied that the change in government had not really changed my life that much. Then he asked me if I thought the members of parliament were honest people. I chuckled and said maybe a few were. My patient smiled and said, “Well if the people supposed to be leading the country can tell lie, it don’t matter if we do the same thing. So you could write the prescription in my cousin name. Nothing will happen.”
Needless to say I was flabbergasted by this line of reasoning: it was okay to do something wrong because people in authority were also doing it. I pointed out that if I know what is the right thing to do then that is what I must do, regardless of what everyone else is doing. I reassured him that the prescription I had just written in his own name would not be beyond his budget to purchase, and wrapped up the visit.
As I reflected on his arguments I wondered how many people in Jamaica felt the way he did. How many justified wrongdoing by saying others do the same, and get away with it? Many of us have benefited from a good education, and were taught that right and wrong are not determined by majority vote. Do we also realise that we have a responsibility to set an example for the people who have not been as lucky as we have been? How many of us in positions of power understand that with power comes the responsibility to set an example by doing the right thing? Imagine the difference in our society today if politicians understood that being elected to government also placed on them the responsibility of ensuring exemplary conduct in word and deed.
Instead of waiting for other people to make the first step, each of us can make a difference by setting a good example for anyone that may be looking up to us. So, wait your turn in a line; do the work you are being paid to do; do not take credit for work you did not do and do not make promises that you cannot keep. Integrity is built by consistent commitment to honesty in the little things so that when we are faced with a bigger thing force of habit makes our chosen action fall on the side of truthfulness. Those of us who know better must do better so that those who follow us are not led astray.