It is a sad direction society has taken when people are patted on the back and elevated to the status of heroes, not for going beyond the call of duty but simply for doing the minimum that is expected of them.

This post is inspired by recent events related to the Cyrus Engerer debacle, of course. The prime minister felt that he could get away with making a martyr out of a convicted criminal in order to save face with the electorate. And get away with it he did, despite an outcry from those whose moral compass did not suddenly lose direction.

Many other countries view resignation after serious wrong-doing as the only choice. Shamed public officers are not given the chance of considering any other alternative. Resignation is usually a one-way road, with no chance of being rehabilitated into public function. And that's the way it should be, because the political system is too fragile to allow those who mess up to come crawling back, without public trust in that same system being eroded.

Not in Malta. Resignation after wrong-doing is so rare, that when it happens the culprit expects to be handed a gold star for excellence. Which is why Joseph Muscat could get away with that inappropriate speech about soldiers of steel without being made to resign himself.

Even more worryingly, the Cyrus Engerer case is not an isolated one, but rather is symptomatic of the way our whole society functions. Expecting praise for achieving the minimum required is the norm in almost every strata. Standards - both of behaviour and of professional and academic achievement - have become so low that most of us are dazzled by the mediocre.

On the workplace, few are those who will go the extra mile in order to do a truly excellent job. People punch in and try to get away with doing the very least possible. Promotions and pay rises are viewed as a god-given right for having spent a number of years in service. Not for excellence of skills, but simply for being there. 

Which is probably the reason why many corporations (in particular the civil service, the government corporation par excellence) find themselves lumped with a fleet of ineffectual high-level managers whose only merit for the job was turning up on time for X number of years. Because a minimum level of competence is so rare that it gets rewarded.

The same malady is evident in the younger strata of society, at academic level. There was a time, quite a long while ago, when possessing a degree from the University of Malta assumed something about you. It assumed a degree of literacy, of intellectual maturity. 

Nowadays, in too many cases, it just means that you were persistent enough to reach the end of the course. Which is why so many graduates have pitiful basic skills and find themselves at a loss when faced with the exigencies of the real working world. Scraping through with barely enough grades to acquire a degree that has already been devalued is hardly the stuff that successful professionals are made of. And yet, the academic world continues to exalt mediocrity.

Unfortunately, this celebration of minimum standards is most evident in those areas where it can cause most damage - in our executive, our legislature and our judiciary. This holds true irrespectively of which political party is in power and has been an accepted state of affairs for years.

The trouble is that when exceedingly low standards become the norm, the consequences are rather dire: when someone messes up, retribution is not proportionate to the crime. Patterns of behaviour that would be viewed as unacceptable by other societies are received with a collective shrug of the shoulders and a resigned "oh well, another of those cases". And then, we promptly forget all about them.

Which is why we have at least two members of the judiciary (am I forgetting anyone?) currently being investigated for wrong-doing as they continue to enjoy full benefits for their post and with no end in sight to these investigations. 

One of them is likely to retire with full honours before proceedings are concluded. We are talking about two members of the highest institution of the country, two people who get the privilege of deciding the fate of others. And yet, a long, long time after their cases were made public, proceedings drag on. 

Both refuse to resign, which is the only honourable course of action in the circumstances.

And the electorate accepts the situation blithely, pretty much forgetting all about it because...cue collective shrug... Oh well, it's just another one of those cases.

How low are we prepared to go before we realise no good will come from accepting such standards of behaviour?

 

 

 

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