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MUGWE: Delinquent students, misplaced blame

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Nearly 4,000 years ago, Babylon
was ruled for 43 years by King Hammurabi. As King, he laid out one of the
earliest known set of laws.

History records that
these laws are among the oldest translatable writings consisting of about 282
laws, most of which concern punishment. Each law, takes into account the
perpetrator’s status. One of the laws states that if a builder builds a house
for a man and does not make its construction firm, and the house collapses and
causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.
And if it causes the death of the son of the owner of the house, they shall put
to death a son of that builder. King Hammurabi’s laws had three important
concepts; reciprocity, accountability and incentives. In today’s lingo, King
Hammurabi would gladly tell us that we don’t get to walk away from the risks we
have created for others. We need to own our risks.

This week, we witnessed
eight students who created risks for their fellow students by confessing on
video they cheated in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam. The
risk they created is a possibility of having all the other students results
annulled. Their brazen confession and unprintable insults caught the eyes of
the highest sovereign of the land, and they were subsequently arrested and
arraigned in court.

In another region, 30
students were arrested for allegedly engaging in illicit activities, including
sex and beer drinking, as part of the celebration for completion of their KCSE
exams. They were also arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

All this is happening
against the backdrop of teenage pregnancies, where it was reported about 13,000
cases of teenage pregnancies were reported this year alone in one specific
county.

And as has become
characteristic of us as a people, we voiced choice opinions regarding these
delinquents. We shifted blame from the perpetrators and laid it all on parents
too busy to discipline their children, on privileged upbringing, on a church
that has lost its vocation, on dishonest politicians, and even on the Chinese
debt. Everyone but the actual culprits was given a guilt trip because ‘they
have learnt the immoral behavior from us’. While this is not entirely untrue,
it is also not defensible.

In economic-speak, a
risk is a chance an entrepreneur or investor makes that an outcome or
investment return will differ from the expected outcome or return. It includes
the possibility of losing some or all of the original investment. In real life,
risks are non-transferrable and when they are, you pay a hefty premium to an
insurer who agrees to indemnify you. In essence, it still costs you, the risk
bearer, to take a risk.

It is, therefore, absurd
for us to transfer these students risks on the rest of society by blaming it on
the moral lacuna of those supposed to be raising the bar, and at no cost to the
students themselves. These students must commence adulting without inculpating
their misconduct on others. 

The cardinal reason we
are witnessing this kind of boorish behaviour is because of our dependence and
faith on the fruits of obedience. We have mistakenly believed that obedience is
synonymous to self-discipline. However, obedience is other-discipline. It is
the type of discipline that horses and dogs learn from their trainers, slaves
from their masters; and pious people from their religious leaders. It is a
slave mentality that forces us to obey simply because there is an authority
figure present and an incentive, good or bad. This is the reason why dogs and
horses expect treats when they obey their trainers; why we do not obey the
traffic lights unless there is a policeman present; and why we ritually go to
sanctuaries of worship only on days deemed reverent. With the slave mentality,
our performance in work and life is undertaken primarily for the sake of
someone else with a higher authority over us. It is essentially driven by fear.
It is the equivalent of a cattle-prod.

On the other hand with
self-discipline, the motivating factor for performance is not motivated by the
threat of external negative or positive reinforcement. Those that embrace this
type of discipline are self-governed. They are no longer slaves but are
radically free. They have locus of control also known as second-order thinking
which helps to identify the subsequent order consequences of a decision before
it happens. They spend less time debating within themselves whether or not to
indulge in detrimental risks to themselves or to others; are able to make
positive decisions more easily; and do not let impulses, greed or peer pressure
dictate their choices. However, like with everything else that brings progress,
the greatest struggle is always within ourselves.

Consider the following:
A fisherman is heading home at dusk. Suddenly he sees another boat headed
straight towards him. He gets upset and starts to yell: ‘Watch out! Turn!’. But
the boat crashes into him anyway. The fisherman gets really furious and starts
loudly hurling insults until he realises there is no one on the other vessel.
He was bumped by an empty boat. He now feels even more upset because he has
nobody to blame.

Our lives are full of
empty boats that are adrift. When they bump into us, we instinctively get the
urge to find the pilot of the other boat to blame him or her. Because when
things don’t go well, we want to find who is guilty.

I, therefore, submit
that we should be like the Babylonian builders. Each time we construct a house,
there is a risk it may collapse, if we make any advertent or inadvertent mistakes.
To avoid this outcome, we must allow for the widest margin of safety to ensure that
the house is solid.  

Finally, my unsolicited
advice to all of us is: do not blame the shadow for the shape of your body.
Likewise, do not blame others for the delinquent nature of these students. Like
the Hammurabi builders, they don’t get to walk away from the risks they have
created for others. They should solely own their risks and the outcome.

 

If
one treats men like cattle, one cannot squeeze out of them more than
cattle-like performances – Ludwig von Mises

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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