Ask yourself; if you would get away with murder, would you consider killing someone? I’m willing to bet that everyone has entertained the thought of taking someone’s life at least once in their lifetime. I’m not saying these are serious thoughts put into action – only few people actually murder someone- but our minds can dwell into dark places sometimes and to me that is a perfectly fine exercise in exploring the limits of one’s moral compass. Understanding your darker side is crucial to emotional stability.

Lucky for us, murder is one of the most severely punishable crimes, anywhere you go. Hell, some countries will even “return the favour” once you’ve been convicted of murder; the much-debated and age-old capital punishment. There are however countless other laws humanity has made up, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to give up on some of your personal morals to break them.

Coming from Switzerland, my arrival in Vietnam was a culture shock. It meant moving from one of the most regulated, safest countries in the world to a far eastern Wild West where most laws are more of a guideline, if even. Within a few weeks I was drunk-driving my illegal motorcycle against traffic on a weekly basis. No helmet, no license, no insurance and no f*cks given, as they say.

Now, after almost 4 years in Southeast Asia, it has become obvious: paying police officers, breaking countless traffic laws on a daily basis or bribing corporate clients, are all perfectly acceptable means to further your own agenda. Many say due to the local customs, where corruption is rampant and law enforcement weak, they are forced to play by local rules, where money talks. This is true to some extent. However, if everyone starts abiding the law, corruption would not be able to exist (and strangely enough I was actually content to receive an official ticket the other day for driving against traffic – finally an officer doing his job right.).

The problem is that it all starts in innocence: ‘I’m still a good person’, ‘At least I’m not hurting anyone’ or ‘It’s only five dollars’. But it becomes a routine; it becomes accepted because we make a habit out of it. It’s similar to the idea of death by a thousand cuts, and is actually scientifically referred to as creeping normality. Due to the small and generally unnoticeable changes, we accept each small evil at a time and don’t see the damage it does to our moral compass in the long term, until we’ve accepted the new moral as normal.

Although continuously aware of it, I am still guilty of this practice. I still routinely bribe police officers to avoid having to pay tickets or to visit the police station. Professionally I need the right connections to make sure our plans are executed as quickly as possible, by finding the right person to “deal with”. In Europe I’d never even think of doing this and I am sincerely disgusted when reading of corruption scandals in the Netherlands or Switzerland. Yet here in Asia, things don’t go by the book, they go by the envelope.

It’s sad to say, but as much as my I regard myself as a morally right human being, I’m breaking all kinds of laws on a daily basis with no remorse what so ever. Asia has twisted my compass within no time and to my own surprise the corruption I hated back in the West, has become part of the way to succeed in East. Well, at least I’m not hurting anyone…