Called To Be Good Citizens


Your Excellency the Minister of Higher Education,
The Governor of the North West Region,
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Bamenda,
Other Vice Chancellors here present,
The Deputy Vice Chancellors of the University of Bamenda,
The Registrar of the University of Bamenda,
Distinguished Academics of the Ranks of Professors, Associate Professors, Lecturers and Instructors,
Students of the Graduating Class,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The two paragraph letter of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bamenda inviting me to deliver this discourse stated; “The University of Bamenda will be holding its 2013 Convocation on Friday, 28th March 2014 and we would be privileged and honoured if Your Lordship could give the Convocation Discourse to our graduating class.” The second paragraph of the Letter mentioned, “You are at liberty to select a relevant topic of your choice”.

The two main points I liked in the letter of Mr. VC were that I was not going to be addressing some great Professors, but I was being invited to talk to the graduating class. Therefore anyone who is not of the graduating class is listening to me as a bonus. Secondly, I was very glad to be given the liberty to choose a relevant topic of my choice. Selecting a topic of my choice was OK, but what I was not comfortable about was that the topic had to be relevant. I therefore with freedom of choice and discretion of relevance, decided to prepare a convocation discourse on the topic “The Goodness of Good – Called to be good Citizens”. That the topic is of my choice, I am a hundred percent sure, but whether it is relevant, I am not too sure.

REASONS FOR THE CHOICE OF TOPIC: Existential Philosophers focus on how man relates to his fellow man. The media presents a world which carries a rather gloomy face. The news is dominated by the ravages of wars, the high and complicated level of crimes, the wickedness of human beings against themselves, man’s ruthless domination and oppression of his fellow man, the wanton abuse of human rights, economic injustices and trade imbalance, the rising phenomenon of bribery and corruption etc.; Our world is threatened with what Bob Marley calls “Atomic atrocities and Nuclear mis-philosophies”. The world is presented as an evil world and we wonder whether there is or can be any good in the world of today? Can there still be good people and if there can be, can they have any impact on the society of today?

Looking at all these, the question arises, we are graduating these students to go to where? What kind of world are we sending them into and what product are we sending into the world? Are we sending good people into a bad world or are we sending bad people into a good world? Will the public scramble to consume these products were are turning out today with satisfaction, or they will curse the day they graduated? The certificates they will be awarded attests that they are qualified in learning and proven in good character; This means that the administration of this University attests that the students graduating today are good but to what degree has this goodness been tested and how long can the goodness endure? These are questions whose answers cannot be given with mathematical precision, but it leads us to reflect on the problem of the good.

THE NATURE OF GOODNESS: Goodness is a concept which we employ and discuss in our everyday life. We often talk of a good man or a good woman, a good citizen, a good government, a good car, a good house, a good job, a good teacher or a good student. In this case, goodness is the quality of being good that exists in these elements. The goodness of a car will depend on the performance of the car or on its options; the goodness of a job will depend on the lucrative nature of the job, the convenience of the job or the satisfaction derived from the job. But when we talk of the goodness of the human person, we may be referring to moral goodness, physical goodness or ontological goodness. Metaphysical philosophers tell us that “Each thing’s good is to be in accordance with its nature”. From the principle “Ens et Bonum convertuntur – Being and goodness are interchangeable” we can conclude with Tomas Alvira, Luis Clavell and Tomas Melendo that “The good is not a reality distinct from being: ‘everything that is, is good’. Things are good to the extent that they have ‘esse. They have as much goodness as they have the act of being. The intrinsic value or perfection of things is rooted in their act of being and in their essence. Consequently, something is good in accordance with its esse. It will be a potential good if its esse is potential; it will be a participated good if its esse is participated” (Tomas Alvira, Luis Clavell and Tomas Melendo, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala Publishers, Manila, 1982).

The human person as being or ‘ens’ is therefore good and possesses goodness by nature. We can therefore without fear or favour say that ontologically, all these students graduating today are good and in their human nature, they all possess goodness as a quality of being. If they were not good, they would not be and if they are it means they are good. However, we must distinguish this ontological goodness from the moral goodness which relates the rectitude of character or effective goodness which relates to productivity. In the latter cases, we cannot make a sweeping statement about the graduating students as good. They have to prove this in their action and as individuals.

The Second element of the nature of the good is that every good thing is desirable. H.D. Gardeil, in his Book, Introduction to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, IV, Metaphysics, says that “At the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, in a well known context, defines the good as that towards which all things tend: quod omnia appetunt – literally, ‘what all things desire”. Thus the basic thing about the good is that it bears on and stirs the appetite. If as we have seen, the true denotes a relation of intellect to being, the good for its part denotes a relation of being to the appetite”(H.D. Gardeil, pp.142-143). Just as good food wets the appetite and attracts a hungry person, so too goodness attracts and is desirable. Thomas Aquinas explains this well when he says “Now it is clear that a thing is desirable only in so far as it is perfect; it is perfect, however, so far as it is in act; and it is in act in the measure that it is being; for being is the actuality of everything”(Summa theol. Ia, q5, a.1). Again, as ontological beings, each graduating student is good and as such, each of them is desirable. In this sense, the principle holds that “things are not good because we want them; rather we want them in so far as they are good.” However, as students graduating who shall go hunting for jobs or recruited into jobs, we cannot jump to a general conclusion about the goodness regarding their moral character or effective productivity as “The taste of the pudding is in the eating”. In this case, the students who are good will be desirable and those who do not possess goodness in that sense will not be desirable.

The third main element of goodness is that it shows itself, just like the popular adage which says “good wine needs no telling”. It is the same in our academic circles. The Professors who always remind their students that they are Professors and insist to be called Professors may be trying to hide something and put up a façade. The real Professor who delivers his lectures with professorial competence and impacts knowledge like a professor, does not need to remind anybody that he is a professor or does not need to insist to be called so. Because what makes a professor a professor is not just the degrees, the promotions and the appellations but the professorness in the professor. That professorness is the essence of the professor and shouts out everywhere he/she is. Or better still, a beautiful woman does not need to go around telling people that she is beautiful. If she is truly beautiful, her beauty strikes everyone as she comes along whether they like it or not, or whether she likes to be noticed or not. This is where the notion of goodness is related to the final cause. Again Gardeil says that “it is also true that final causality does not act in isolation; it implies both efficient and formal causality, the formal as principle of the efficient. Nevertheless, the causality proper to the good precisely as good is final causality, which consists in evoking desire. Hence it is along the line of final causality that we must understand the accepted expression that ‘good is self-diffusing’ or self-radiating: Bonum est diffusivum sui. This diffusion or radiation is not to be taken literally, like the emission of light from a body; which is to say it is not an activity of efficient causality..” (Op.Cit., p.144).

Fourthly goodness is related to value. When we talk about value, we immediately think of economic calculations and evaluations. The word value has taken on a rather special meaning in modern philosophy, particularly in the so-called Phenomenology of Values. Max Scheler, the most outstanding exponent of this philosophy attempted to dislodge the good as the object of Ethics, and replace it with value. In this sense the goodness of a thing is equivalent to its value. I have sat on the Recruitment Board to interview people. And one of the most evaded questions by the candidates is “How much do you expect the company to pay you?”. And most often we get the most hypocritical answer “whatever the company offers”. In many cases, the panel has had to rephrase the question in these words; “how much do you value yourself, your performance and your production ability?” Although this example is purely economic, it brings out the aspect of self esteem which the graduating students are supposed to have as they step out into the world and they must know that the world will receive them as they present themselves. As you are valued, so you will be desired.

Joseph M de Torre says that “created being is motivated by its end, which is the first of the causes and sets all other causes in motion. In this sense, the good is described by its effect: the final cause, which is ‘what all beings desire’. The good, then, which motivates as final cause, is classified into three kinds:
i. Honourable good (bonum honuestum): the good desired for its own sake.
ii. Useful good (bonum utile): the good desired for the sake of something else;
iii. Enjoyable good (bonum delectabile): the good desired for the enjoyment that it gives.

In the backdrop of these various kinds of goodness, the graduating students are called upon to be good citizens. They are called upon to view their education not as an isolated good for themselves but good that is going to benefit the society. This has to do with refocusing their mentality out of themselves and towards others with whom they interact daily. Know that it is the goodness in the good that makes good to be good, to be attractive, desirable and valued.

The good of the individual or what we commonly call the personal good has to refer to the common good, since society is the means for the person to attain his/her perfection. The more intense good is, the more universal, and so, it is more noble to want to do good to the entire society than to oneself alone, and it is better to want to do good to all societies than to one only. Therefore, the rectitude of the love for personal good depends on its ordination to the common good. Is it good for me to get a good education? Yes, it is for the common good, if I can thereby serve society better.

On the other hand, whoever prefers his own good, (egoism) to any other good, in a certain sense becomes like an animal, because it is proper to the animal to seek its own individual good without the desire to transcend it, as is proper to the rational creature. The person has to ordain himself to the common good of society, but understanding this as ultimately ordained to the common good which transcends society.

However, strictly speaking, a real moral conflict between a personal good and the common good arises only in a society which is not ordered: where either the common good or the personal good are misconceived. If every part of society is ordered to the good, no conflict arises: only if one of those parts wants its own good in a disorderly way does conflict arise. If this happens, the damage occurs both in the parts and in the totality, and the more influential the part, the greater is the damage to the totality. That is why the egoism of someone in authority is all the more damaging and has more far-reaching effects. If there is disorder in relation to the common good, order must be restored by the legitimate authority by means of measures restricting particular good for the sake of the common good. (cf. J. Torre, op.cit., pp.246-247).

John Finnis says that “There is a common good for human beings, inasmuch as life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, friendship, religion, and freedom in practical reasonableness are good for any and every person. And each of these human values is itself a common good inasmuch as it can be participated in by an inexhaustible number of persons in an inexhaustible variety of ways or on an inexhaustible variety of occasions. These two senses of common good are to be distinguished from a third, from which, however, they are not radically separate…. A set of conditions which enables the members of a community to attain for themselves reasonable objectives, or to realize reasonably for themselves the values for the sake of which they have reason to collaborate with each other in a community”(John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980, p.155).

The good in you will make you into excellent leaders and to be excellent leaders you need what we call moral intelligence. Jenny Handley defines moral intelligence as “the ability to understand and demonstrate right from wrong. It is demonstrated in empathy, conscience, self-control, respect for others, kindness, tolerance and fairness.” (Jenney Handley, Raise your Leaders, Tandym Print, pp.36-37). A good person with moral intelligence therefore should be the moral beacon of the society, a symbol that everyone associates with good values. Handley goes on to say that “it is not sufficient merely to know right from wrong. We have consciously to work at doing right rather than doing wrong. Taking time to anticipate the results and impact of our actions in two scenarios, one when we take the moral high ground and the other when we don’t, should become standards for any worthwhile leader. We all have different perceptions of what moral intelligence actually is. Some people believe that it is okay to be dishonest until they get caught out. Others know that being honest, to yourself and others, is the only way of practicing moral intelligence.” (Ibid)

Unfortunately, my dear graduating students, you are graduating into a society where while ontological good remains intact, moral good and common good are being shoved into the background. In which case, one who has both moral and common good at heart will not enter the prestigious ENAM (Higher School of Administration and Magistracy) and fight to be registered under the department of Taxation or Customs because it is more illegally lucrative than being a civil Administrator or a Social Welfare inspector. Yet it is possible to be a Taxation or a Custom Officer and be good, without indulging in the illegal practices that make the profession termed lucrative. Or better still, in the public Service, we shall consider the common good as the fruit of our service so that we remain public servants and not become public Masters. You are graduating into a system where even Academics has been politicized and seasoned professors put aside reason and propose illogical arguments to the public just to win the bench of a village Mayor. Or again, trained teachers abandon the noble teaching profession to become executors of public contracts. In this way, the egoism in us destroys the good that exists in us and the fruit of such egoism is corruption, nepotism, tribalism, intellectual and moral dishonesty, embezzlement of community funds and treating the human person as an IT and not as a THOU as Martin Bubber the social Philosopher puts it.

My dear graduating students, believe in your own goodness and know that you can contribute tremendously to the good of the society in which you are going. You can be good citizens and you are called to be good citizens because you possess goodness in yourselves. Do not let the evils that exist in the society corrupt the goodness which is innate in your very being and don’t get drowned in the unorthodox fighting for positions, power and money at the expense of honour, integrity and self respect. This can only come through self discipline and the cultivation of a sense of a value system that cannot be beaten by the temptations to position, power and wealth. The goodness in you must help you to stand at all times for the truth which itself is a transcendental quality. You must know that you are standing to defend the truth in a society where “Lie telling has been institutionalized as a national culture” as the late Archbishop Paul Verdzekov put it. It means you must be ready to swim against the current. This is the only way to maintain your goodness. Without arrogating any powers to myself, I wish to christen this graduating batch “The Bonum Batch – the Goodness Batch” and the word Bonum will serve as a measuring rod for all that you do in the future.

While you try to insert and assert yourselves in the society, remember that there are three things which man can never have to himself no matter how he tries, because they belong exclusively to God. To God alone belongs the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever.

Andrew F. NKEA,
Professor of Canon Law,
Bishop of Mamfe.

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