Knowing what’s right... - Veterinary Practice
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Knowing what’s right…

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

AS the ink dries on the paper, a senior Scottish politician is waiting to hear whether her peers will allow her to continue in post, as a result of her alleged abuse of power in allowing her nanny to act as her parliamentary secretary.

Two problems with that statement really: the ink and paper bit is a tad fanciful as everything is done in Word nowadays and, secondly, no one cares if her gardener acts as a chauffeur or her exheadmistress runs up a nice line in embroidered House of Commons handkerchiefs, so long as the financial details are all above board and transparently within the rules.

All this comes as a bit of a shock in a world where anything goes, where individuality is frowned upon and compliance is all. In a world which is so patently up itself that the term “political correctness” warrants a place in our national vocabulary; where the guardians of our moral robustness are more concerned with minor celebrity than in upholding standards; and where spin is a another term for lies but is considered perfectly acceptable.

Some things are well accepted but never spoken about. Incest is not a good thing – we all know that but it doesn’t drip from the tabloids daily. Somehow, silently, we’ve all got the message.

Buying your round in the pub may not be of the same magnitude but it’s fully understood by everyone (well, almost everyone) but I’ve never seen it written down anywhere.

Driving on the correct side of the road, broadly within the requirements of the Highway Code, not flirting with your best friend’s partner and refraining from striking other people’s children, however irksome they may be, these are all fully understood codes of behaviour but there seems to be little need for any formalisation of what everyone knows to be true.

Abuse of power

Why, then, does the world come tumbling down when it comes to the use and abuse of power, position and money? Often, of course, the three are inextricably linked and abuse of any or all three of these results in significant gain for some and mounting cynicism for the rest of us.

If I were a councillor and had approved a dubious planning application, people would conclude, rightly or wrongly, that I had abused my position for financial gain. Nothing would be said to me but the assumption would stand nevertheless. That’s how it works.

In some societies, corruption is endemic – try importing a car into Nigeria, for instance, and you’ll see just how many people believe that their position is sufficiently important to warrant payment along the way.

In our society, however, we have a moral framework that dates back to a more inflexible time, patterns of behaviour built upon the certainty that a man’s word is his bond and that he would no more risk his reputation than fly to the moon. Yet, in other aspects of our life today, the reality is less impressive.

We have politicians who blatantly lie, others who consistently adapt the truth to fit the circumstances. We have football managers who will tear up a binding contract for personal gain in an environment where young men, who often have rather more talent in their feet than functioning neurones in their heads, command weekly pay cheques five times the magnitude of the UK’s average annual salary and we have minor celebrities who run amok on a plane because they can.

Somehow, nothing is ever said, no one stands up to say “Enough is enough.” We simply get our heads down and carry on. Our television celebrates bad behaviour by deliberately seeking out and forcing together inadequate people who can be relied upon to avoid harmony.

Our society is fed a mindless slop of cheap TV where self-aggrandising idiots are given the chance of minor celebrity and will hack down anything or anyone who stands in their way. Do we really believe that Alan Sugar would actually hire any one of the aspirants who fights for his attention on TV?

Why does this matter? It matters because we should know the difference between right and wrong. We should know it instinctively as the essential coda for living together in an adult society.

That our politicians are inadequate, and may find it hard to understand the rules of parliamentary engagement, may come as no surprise to many of us, but the news that the RCVS has found it necessary to establish a corporate governance working party to address perceived failures to disclose conflicts of interest within council subcommittees, is disappointing to say the least.

The veterinary profession is small. One of its joys is that almost everybody knows, or knows of, almost everybody else. It has a generosity of spirit that distinguishes it from all the other professions and the prospect of any of its members seeking to act selfishly or unprofessionally comes as a shock.

Is that just the naïve response of an idealist or is it time to make more stringent efforts to maintain all that’s good within this profession?

If it is time to stand up and be counted, the need for the RCVS to police the actions of its members in such fundamentals as self-interest and the maintenance of honour in our dealings with one another is a sad reflection on the veterinary profession as a microcosm of society as a whole.

Beware! This way dragons lie.

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