This article first appeared in El Mostrador on March 18, 2022.
When things do not surprise us, it is because we are used to seeing them, because they have become a daily occurrence and we see them as normal events that we should condemn.
On the contrary, if someone does things correctly, under minimum standards of probity and good practices, we find it incredible, we congratulate them and elevate them to the level of superheroes. But, how long are we going to accept it! Nobody is a hero or heroine for doing things right and we must put an end to the acceptance of unacceptable facts such as bribery, conflict of interest, patronage, quotas, or pituto as part of our culture.
In the face of this, there is little that laws can do, and the answer lies in society itself. Social anthropologist Larissa Adler-Lomnitz already said it in her study “Reciprocity and favors in the Chilean middle class”, where she explained that this sector is characterized by compadrazgo, where a system of reciprocity prevails through the continuous exchange of favors within the framework of friendship and kinship, which are bureaucratic and generally with a preferential treatment concerning other people.
How can we deny it! In Chile, we have accepted that this is the way things work and that for many, whenever possible, it is easier to get in touch with a “contact” to obtain favor.
We must be clear that we are all corruptible and susceptible to weaken before a tasty offer, especially when the context warrants it. And we must understand that the corrupt are normal people who are among us, and who rightly see certain irregular acts as normal and not evil, generally because they do not realize that they have the power to change destiny, and accommodate themselves to the status quo of easy achievement.
Each one of us is responsible for our actions and, therefore, we must stop hiding behind collective guilt, move towards condemnation, demand accountability and stop treating the corrupt as if they had done nothing just because we know them or are friends.
When we keep silent about illicit acts we have witnessed or defend those who committed them, we are accomplices of corruption and, therefore, the road to eradicating it is increasingly difficult.
Latin America is characterized by endorsing corruption and under the lens of the world is an area where doing “dirty” business is relatively easy, and worse, wherein many countries bribing an authority is a common practice, which ends up confusing who holds the situation of superiority, the briber or the bribed. And, although in Chile corruption was hidden under the carpet, at least we are now aware that it is among us, the issue is what we are doing beyond asking for sanctions.
An important factor is a trust and how it has vanished thanks to corruption and the lack of harmony of authorities and institutions with ordinary citizens. The recent version of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 survey, which annually measures trust and credibility in 28 countries, revealed that the world is trapped in a vicious circle of distrust. As a result, actions to address this problem are not yielding results, which is further fueled by a growing lack of faith in the media and governments, which, through misinformation and division, are feeding the cycle and exploiting it for commercial and political gain. Nearly one in two respondents see government and media as divisive forces in society. So the challenges are diverse but all are geared toward rebuilding trust and thereby stopping the vicious cycle that gives way to corruption and is weakening our democracies.
If you have not fallen into the clutches of corruption, surely you sleep well. The big problem in this culture of endorsing certain bad practices -because we assume them as normal-, makes the corrupt also have sweet dreams. Will we be able to put a stop to this “normality”?
By: Susana Sierra