While working as a consultant many years ago I was given an assignment to set up a media department for a Christian organisation.
I was excited by this unusual project and spent a lot of time thinking through the unique challenges that a church would face in dealing with the media.
In doing so I realised that one of the most critical areas would be ensuring that the people who worked in the media centre had the right mindset for the job, and after prayerful consideration I settled on a departmental motto that sought to ensure “clean hands and a pure heart” in all our dealings.
An overambitious target perhaps, but what is life without a couple of unattainable goals!
In spite of knowing that this was a tall order, in the years that followed I still tried to internalise the slogan and live by it.
It’s hard! In fact, on days like this (it’s been a whole week of days that seem to have been delivered straight from hell) I am tempted to believe that it is in fact impossible to maintain a condition of any level of purity in adult life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about clean hands and pure hearts as the latest wave of WikiLeaks stories have hit our headlines.
So much of what has been published appears to reveal the very opposite ethos to what the Psalmist referred to, with a number of Zimbabwean politicians being singled out for their duplicitous dealings and deceitful political stances.
The actual verse (Psalm 24v4 NIV) reads: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.”
While we all want to have friends who are like this, we must realise how difficult it is to be a friend like this.
In politics of course, true friendship is even more difficult to come by, so perhaps we should not be surprised by what we read.
One is tempted to conclude that it may be better to have no friends at all than to have friends you cannot trust.
Given the damage that the WikiLeaks exposures can potentially cause all around the world, one must also interrogate the purity of this organisation’s intentions.
According to their website, “WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organisation dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists.
“We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”
At face value, this may seem like a high calling indeed. Why wouldn’t we want to support freedom of speech, improve transparency and strengthen democracy all around the world?
The trouble is, when ideals are pursued irresponsibly, the repercussions can be disastrous.
While we are all reading with relish the secret machinations of powerful political figures and asking one another whether there will be any consequences on the ground, we conveniently forget that on a smaller scale we do the very same thing that these politicians do.
We meet over tea or beer and talk about people that we call friends, laughing over their flaws and deriding their efforts.
While we may not exactly plot their downfall, we seldom say things publicly that will aid their recovery.
When acquaintances enjoy good fortune we wonder what wrongdoing they committed to achieve this: “Who did she sleep with?”, “Where did she get the money?”, “Who is he fronting for?”, “How long will that business last?”
We create moral convolutions where there are none in order to make ourselves feel better about not having achieved what our neighbours have achieved.
In the Ten Commandments, the instruction not to covet has always seemed to me a little unnecessary and even inane.
After all, on the grand scale of grievances, what’s a little wishful thinking compared to murder, adultery and worship of idols?
But clearly the guy who sneaked that clause into the book of rules knew what he was talking about. If you think about it, many heinous crimes ( rape, fraud, even murder) can be traced back to the seemingly harmless practice of coveting.
Writing on the subject of envy in Destiny magazine, Fadzai Munyaradzi says: “I’ve now resolved that although status envy is an inevitable part of adult life, cultivating my self-confidence and resilience is a better life strategy than being bitter and resentful . . .” Clever girl.
Like so many politicians we have public faces and private opinions and the two are often diametrically opposed.
Ever wonder what would happen if WikiLeaks exposed the secret files containing all the things you say and do in private? Where and how would you begin to defend yourself?
We struggle with this notion because our hands are not clean and our hearts are not pure and we couldn’t bear to have the rest of the world know it.
I messaged a friend recently to share with her how hard I was finding it to live up to my own values and to pursue the goal of being a good person generally.
She responded saying: “Your hands have always been clean and the purity of heart you can keep working on.”
I laughed and decided there’s hope for me yet. If there is hope for me, then there is hope for us all!
Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to email@example.com. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer