Cunningham and Scarcity of Integrity

June 25, 2016. The world of fashion and lifestyle were shocked by the death of Bill Cunningham, the legendary fashion photo journalist from The New York Times in age of 87. We know that fashion is a sparkling world that offers so many temptations: traveling around the world to extraordinary expensive clothes and branded bags for free.

Cunningham insisted with his principle. For decades, he was not contaminated by lusts. With integrity, he brought his camera and cycled to the corners of New York City to capture the street fashion phenomena. He wore the same clothes every day: a blue jacket with khaki pants. He never watches movies, do not have his own TV and slept at small room with shared bathroom.

Cunningham listed as an iconic and dedicated journalist, for the rest of his life. He reminds me the story of a traffic policeman in Malang City, East Java: Brigadier Chief Seladi (58 y.o). After office, Seladi also scavenged garbage from afternoon until night to get adding income ranging from IDR 25,000 to 50,000 per day. He needs additional income to support his wife and three children.

The story of Seladi immediately went viral on social media. Many people feel amazed. Actually, it is very easy for the police officer to have a lot of money only by accepting bribes from traffic offenders. But Seladi chose to keep honest, even when no boss sees it. He prefers honesty, although it means he had to work harder in the midst of rubbish. While his life story exposed in mass media, leader of the House of Representatives gave him honorary award as “Great Example Police”. Seladi became a national hero.

I’m also impressed but at the same time have questions from the deepest of my heart. When someone “doing things right”, why people saw that as an extraordinary thing? Is not a normal thing? Do people full of integrity like Cunningham and Seladi extremely rare, so they become minority group in the midst of the world who glorifies money, position, and all earthly pleasures?

When I talked about Bill Cunningham, the spontaneous reaction of my closest friends was: “wow! He is an idealistic journalist!” More sad, I heard a comment, “ah! it’s not realistic. Come on! Does not everyone need the money?” Honesty and integrity synonymous with being poor and even symbols of hypocrite behavior. Cunningham statement that “money is the cheapest thing, liberty and freedom is the most expensive” feels so elusive to most people.

At the same time, Indonesia was shocked by fake vaccine case which makes children infected by germs. Surprisingly, I actually heard the comment “ah! Such evil is common!” Corruption and evil in political stage become so common that no longer an interesting topic.

In smaller scale, I often hear my integrity colleagues received insinuation from their colleagues who think they’re looking for boss’ attention. “You provoke the boss! You made us could not breathe in front of the boss! ”

So, doing the right thing is incredible things while committing a crime is normal! How could it be?

A person with integrity is a minority and the rest of them is the majority or dominant group. I remember the concepts used in my thesis research recently, Co-Cultural’s Mark Orbe, initiated in the late of 1990s. Actually, this concept is used to observe the typology of communications by minority groups or co-Cultural with the dominant group in the discriminatory framework.

The concept says that the context of the situation, field of experiences, abilities, and perceived costs and rewards will determine the approach (assertive, non-assertive, aggressive) and the orientation of communication (assimilation, accommodation, separation) that ultimately affect the types of communications selected by minority groups.

In this case, people who “doing things right” become marginalized as a minority in daily communication. They have to fight against negative satire as real form of discrimination acts. As minority, they have three options: merge (assimilation) with the lusts or shifting to the majority; trying to compromise the worldly pleasures and retaining what is right (accommodation); or absolutely separate themselves from the lusts to maintain the total and unshakable integrity as Cunningham and Seladi did (separation).

Absolutely I am sure that Cunningham and Seladi not intend to attract people attention through mass media or any kind of social media. For decades, Cunningham explicitly refuse to expose himself. For him, journalist’s works is to covering the object rather than making himself as the object of coverage. Seladi also apply the same principle for eight years without publicly exposed.

This phenomenon brings hope and frustration at a time. Hope because there are right people in midst of corrupt and self-serving “dominant” groups. Frustrated because it shows that people who doing things right is not easily find. So rare. I imagine if the dominant group are integrity people. Of course the story of Cunningham and Seladi is not an anomaly. That’s the normal things to do in our daily lives.

In fact, scarcity of integrity makes their story as something impressive and remarkable. How could someone not have drifted by the money? How could they not tempted to taste a “better” life? Abnormal. Crazy.

How about you? Do you feel amazed by Cunningham’s story?
Or you feel normal because you also living the similar integrity?

* * *

Photo Credit:  Zeitgeist Films, indiewire.com

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