It has been going on for far too long, this bashing of bankers for the bonuses they regard as their rights, even though the banks for which they were responsible have been bailed out with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money. Yet today’s headlines were stark… “I’m keeping every penny. Sir Fred Goodwin “won’t budge on his £17 million pension pot”.
It is in my contract, implied Sir Fred Goodwin as he determinedly quoted the niceties of the small print. It’s you guys who are wrong for not anticipating this situation.
I thought back to something I had written six years ago when, in a distant part of Tanzania, I had spent some time observing the Hadza, one of the few groups of genuine Hunter/Gatherers still living exactly as did all our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago. The Hadza own nothing – no houses, no land, no animals, no tools, and hardly any clothes. They survive from day-to-day simply because they unflinchingly collaborate with one another. As such they can live where you and I couldn’t survive for a couple of hours.
“Out on the savannah last evening”, I had written, “two miniature deer were brought in and their meat shared with everyone. As was a large haul of honey. Some weeks before a giraffe had been killed, we were told, providing more meat than could be consumed by all of the neighbouring villages but, within 4 or 5 hours – so fast do the forest networks communicate – hunters from a dozen other villages had moved in and the food was shared communally. No one went hungry.
Further along I was amazed to see a half-hearted attempt to grow maize. My guide questioned the local headman, whose face clouded as he explained that some missionaries had tried to get the Hadza women to become settled agriculturalists, even though there is, in most years, insufficient rain to grow crops. The headman shook his head disapprovingly: “Most years the crops fail but more worrying is that when the crops do flourish, the people who planted them will not share the harvest with other people. They say it is theirs because they planted it. What they don’t eat in one year they then save against a bad harvest. We all become selfish and so cease to trust each other.”
The idea of a written contract having more legality than a verbal promise is relatively new. When those real risk takers, the Pilgrim Fathers, set out on the hazardous voyage across the Atlantic (an undertaking infinitely more dangerous to life and limb than anything Sir Fred Goodwin did in his office) they “solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, covenanted and combined their services together in a civil body politic”. Being all in the same boat they had all to pull together. Covenants go beyond the legal boundaries set out in contracts to embrace a never-ending commitment to each other. It was to the idea of covenant that John F. Kennedy appealed when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
An education worth its name should assist young people to live by covenants, not contracts.