John Quam Editor in Chief Howler Magazine Costa Rica

June 2019 Howler Magazine Editorial- Integrity: You Only Own Your Name Once

Stand up for what you believe in. Stand up for what is right. Don’t listen to the bashers.

It seems less common nowadays for people to uphold their convictions no matter what. Being popular and going with the flow is the more prevalent path of ease. Being wrong is trumped by being popular. It is disturbing when those seeking to expose wrongdoings are ignored or condemned as pariahs. I call this the lemming syndrome. Weaker individuals in the crowd follow their leaders over the cliff to their own demise. Taking the right turn might have saved them lots of embarrassment. I see this as a societal problem, not merely a character flaw.

Some of my previous editorials have stressed the need to be cautious and thoroughly informed when purchasing property or conducting any kind of business in a foreign country. Yet, even the savviest and wariest among us can be duped by unscrupulous and deceptive tactics, be it misleading advertising or outright fraud. We know this happens, not only in Costa Rica but around the world, and the perpetrators — like their victims — can be of any nationality.

Recognizing this reality does not mean we have to accept it and succumb. For those who are victimized to put their heads in the sand, or pack up and go home, will only perpetuate the predatory behavior. Even worse is not pointing the finger of blame where it belongs — on the predators. It might be easier to scapegoat someone else or to turn against each other. Some might be in denial that their trust was betrayed as their loss of faith in the human virtue of honesty is too uncomfortable. For others, the discomfort lies in standing up for the truth alone or against the unwilling majority.

That is exactly what predators count on … continued unopposed access to prey who will not fight back. And unless they are held ethically and legally accountable by members of the wider business community, governments and local citizens, any country can be unfairly judged as a risky place to live and invest.

Costa Rica’s pura vida is an easy-sell marketing dream come true when it comes to enticing corporate names and catchy slogans. Delivering on the promise of that dream is another story. Even the most seemingly reputable company can be guilty of falling short and cheating unsuspecting consumers. One such offense is once too often, if a company values its reputation. And that is where integrity becomes pivotal, not only in righting wrongs already committed but also stopping would-be repeat offenders in their tracks.

It could very well be an uphill and lonely battle. Again, the more popular path might be the path of least resistance — turning a blind eye in hopes the problem will go away on its own. Another option is to stay silent, hoping someone else will go out on a limb to expose the wrongdoing for what it is and defy the culprit. Or you can fold in the face of opposition and give in, accepting defeat from the stance of a loser.

For me, it always comes back to the unique opportunities in Costa Rica for making significant and positive changes. As expats and tourists, we should strive to leave this place better than we found it. Pura vida is not something you can sell in a fancy sales brochure …  a gated community with 24-hour security, edible trees, beautiful pools and tilapia ponds. While finding your pura vida is ultimately an individual search, it does not exist in a vacuum. Pura vida is about individuals contributing within communities. They start with the foundation and build upon it to create a truly rich, pure life.

Oasis or not, Costa Rica is hardly immune to problems and challenges. But generally, once you adapt to the surroundings and the ebb and flow of situations, it becomes a very peaceful place. That is not to say passive is the best policy when injustices occur.

There’s a saying that Costa Rica is a harbor for the wanted and the unwanted. Often, in the middle is the best place to be. We are all running from or running to something. Either way, our word speaks to who we are and what we will be known by. Those who operate in a predatory, underhanded fashion will not last here. I have seen such individuals and companies fail and leave. I love this statement: you only own your name once.