Typically in Toronto, main roads are designed for all traffic to navigate the city, whereas roads in residential areas are designed for those who live there (and their guests). Many residential areas close to main roads have signs showing no access at peak traffic times, to stop people taking “short-cuts” and avoiding traffic queues.
A short drive from our home in Toronto is a shopping mall that has two main entrance/exits. One is on the main road, the other leads to a residential area. The latter exit has a “no right turn” sign, preventing traffic from the shopping mall travelling through a residential area. There are a lot of very large trucks using the mall car parks, so it seems to me that the thinking behind the “no right turn” was to ensure 40’ trucks are not using roads designed for local residential traffic. However, the “no right turn” sign is for all vehicles, not only trucks. But there is a little ruse one can use to get around the problem of not being able to right turn.
As one exits the mall car park, not turning right leads one ahead for about 50 or 60 yards, then the road goes left along the back of a small industrial area leading on to a main road. However, if a car chooses to, after exiting the mall and going straight ahead for the 50 or 60 metres, there is plenty of room to “U-turn” and return to the mall and then turn left to enter the residential area. There is not a “no left turn” sign at the entrance to the mall.
The letter of the law and the spirit of citizenship.
So what I have come to think about recently is, “the letter of the law and the spirit of citizenship” and the real value of values. What I have tried to communicate in the story of the shopping mall exits is the difference between keeping the law and being a good citizen. I have tried to show that I can keep the law but not be a good citizen. Is this making sense? Now, I want to apply this to a high profile political situation that has taken place in Canada recently.
The value of values.
Values, and in particular core values, have become more widely talked about over the last twenty years or so. Organizations of all types and sizes across all sectors are promoting the values that they work to and live by. Values are powerful because they are what we believe, and what we believe shapes our behaviour. Over the last few months we have been seeing and hearing a lot about Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada. Apparently, at some point after he left office a European businessman retained him to advocate on behalf of certain business interests in Canada, nothing wrong in that. I understand that the “lobbying” of politicians by business interests is commonplace in democratic societies. My understanding is also that Mr. Mulroney was well rewarded for his services, nothing wrong in that either. However, the next part of the story becomes a lot more contentious.
Having received the money, Mr. Mulroney then hired tax lawyers to find ways to avoid paying income tax on the monies paid to him, and they were successful. Under repeated questioning by Parliamentary enquiries and so on, Mr Mulroney was adamant that he didn’t break any laws, and I believe him. The question I have is this, “has he been a good citizen of Canada?”
I believe this question to be central if we are to avoid an ever-increasing list of laws and their corresponding loopholes. The true value of values is that they operate at a deeper level in the human spirit than the law. “The law” is on the outside of us working in to shape behaviour, but the “spirit of citizenship” is on the inside working out.
I am guessing that, like many former national leaders, Mr. Mulroney is not short of cash. What would it have cost Mr. Mulroney (in financial terms) to be an example of not just good but great citizenship?
For him to say, “despite not having to pay tax I did, for the good of the country” might have cost him some cash, but it also could have made him an international “hero”, especially when we see what is happening within economies around the world today.
A bad taste in the mouth.
Recently, there has been media publicity concerning offshore tax exempt banking systems. Revenue services in the UK and North America are changing the laws concerning these banks and the countries in which they operate. Just the other day I heard an ad on the radio for a firm of tax lawyers in North America, promoting their services for people who have money abroad, which has not been subject to tax. “The law is changing, so rather than become a criminal come and talk to us, we will help you bring your money in from the cold and negotiate a tax settlement for you.”
For the millions of people in low paid jobs who have experienced the full force of economic downturns over the last twenty to thirty years, these kinds of activities leave a very bad taste in the mouth.
The value of values is their ability to take us beyond “the letter of the law” into a new and living way of relating to others, and this I believe, is a key area in which politicians should lead the way.
Being a good citizen is more than keeping the law of the land. Being a good citizen is acting in the best interests of one’s fellow citizens, even if it costs one to do so.