Consistency, the absence of any contradictions between our beliefs and our actions, has sometimes been called the hallmark of ethics. It is certainly a requirement for social ‘good standing’.
As tribal creatures whose success in life, and whose very existence, is highly dependent on the behaviours of those around us, we have a strong desire to ensure they act in a manner true to their stated beliefs. Think of the fallen politicians – those who campaigned on honesty, or family values, while behaving in completely the opposite manner in private. They hold a certain place in the public’s mind.
Two of the most colourful examples come from (where else!) the US.
Consider Rod Blagojevich who was Governor of Illinois, elected on a platform of cleaning up corruption after the previous Governors had been indicted. He was charged with corruption trying to sell off a Senate seat vacated by Barrack Obama. He was recorded as saying that the Senate seat is “a bleeping valuable thing. You just don’t give it away. … I’ve got this thing, and it’s bleeping golden.” This was just a tip of the iceberg in terms of his shenanigans.
Eventually he was forced from office and had charges pressed against him. Throughout it all he maintained great hair.
Another excellent example of how society treats inconsistent people is the case of New York Governor Elliot Spitzer who was forced to resign from this position when details of his involvement with high price prostitutes emerged. While his activities with prostitutes may not have been technically illegal, he eventually said:
“I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the peoples’ work. Over the course of my public life, I have insisted — I believe correctly — that people take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself.”
When people fail to act with consistency, we as a society tend to inflict significant costs on them. This is in part to protect ourselves. If we have to rely on their judgement, we want to be confident that they will act in accordance with how they state they will.
This could be why Kevin Rudd is in trouble!
“Consistency and Ethics” Developed by Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, S.J., and Michael J. Meyer,