I feel that nowadays we pretty much live in a world turned upside down. An upside down world is the opposite of what is normal and logical. But what is normal and logical? According to anthropologists this varies greatly between cultures. In some cultures it’s normal to spit and burp in public. In other cultures that’s abnormal. Telling someone “just act normal!” therefore isn’t really helpful. What is the normal world and what is the one that is turned upside down?

In the United States they elected a president who abuses women, is constantly talking nonsense, is lying and frequently abuses his power and manipulates. At least half of the Americans adore him. Normal or the world turned upside down? Turkey has elected a leader who wants to appropriate all power and would preferably like to safeguard his position for the rest of his life through state terror. This man calls the Netherlands a capital of Nazism in Europe and considers Turkey to be a true democracy. Most Turks find him amazing. Normal or the world turned upside down? In our own country there are politicians who talk about “my people”. In reality they display an embarrassing accumulation of abuse of power and self-enrichment, which puts the interests of “their people” last. And still these people seem to believe everything they’re being told. Normal or the world turned upside down?

Some parts of the law, such as constitutional law for instance, have important unwritten rules that are purely based on the concept of decency. The best known of these is the so-called rule of confidence (‘vertrouwensregel’). It stipulates that a minister or government must step down if the Members of Parliament no longer have confidence in them. This norm isn’t actually written down anywhere, not even in the law. Our constitutional law cannot function without this binding agent, without this glue. The people involved must be sufficiently aware of that, though. If you’re a Member of Parliament and you punch one of your colleagues in the face, the decent thing to do is to resign. It doesn’t say so in the law. There’s no use in putting things like that in the law either, because then there would be no end to it. In our country we sometimes tend to think that if certain issues are not regulated by law, it’s a ‘free for all’. “It’s not required by law, so you don’t have to do it!”, people think. That’s a misunderstanding. Our law cannot function without normal human decency playing a fundamental role. If we underestimate its importance, we run a great risk. Without basic decency, there will be chaos.

The same applies to the rules of corporate governance in the world of business. You can make all kinds of rules about integrity and avoiding conflicts of interest, but those rules won’t help one bit if the people whose behavior they must regulate don’t practice normal human decency in all of their actions. It would be nice if people could be held accountable for that and would hold themselves accountable. But maybe that’s the world turned upside down.

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Do you have a question about corporate governance yourself? Please e-mail it to governance@ekvandoorne.com and perhaps your question will be discussed in the next blogpost.

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