I’ve been traveling lately, then a bout of sickness - hence the paucity of posts of late. In that lull I realized I would like to encourage readers of this blog to comment more often when these posts stimulate your thinking and insight. I’ve sprinkled a few questions throughout this post as a trigger for this, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section at the end.... in future posts as well!
Three broad categories of excuses frequently characterize what a person does when he ignores his ethical responsibilities. The first - No one will notice - is probably the most widely used. Think of how widespread corruption is in government today: if you haven’t thought about it recently, check out this report to remind yourself. Any rule or code made by organizations or governments can be circumvented, no matter how meticulous the wording of that rule may be. Combine this with the fact that life is racing ahead at breakneck speed; that the deluge of information we are all subjected to daily is impossible to stay “on top of”; and that the increasing complexity characterizing organizational environments has everyone scratching his head at some point.....and you have a perfect storm of circumstances encouraging a person to compromise his integrity - in the face of risks that seem to grow smaller every day. Most folks simply don’t expect to be discovered when they act unethically.
If they are, the second excuse stands at the ready: no one will care. The consequences of breaking the rules fails to strike much fear in the heart of most perpetrators. Especially if that person has money, high ranking positional power, and/or a good lawyer. The social consequences which used to hold people in check have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. Community, where art thou?
In the unlikely event that a person is caught, and then suffers some sort of repercussion, what then? That’s when he most likely seeks refuge in the final excuse: everybody does it. If ever an excuse symbolized the capacity of human beings to absolve themselves of any responsibility for their humanity, this is it. Instead of seeing the fact that “everybody does it” as a problem to be addressed, we increasingly see it as cover for our failure to act ethically. Perhaps that’s why, as Rachel Maddow so eloquently pointed out on her show this week, both Mitt Romney and Karl Rove have upped the ante on the level of falsehoods they are willing to propagate to achieve their political goals - at what cost to our society?
Sometimes, of course, people find a line inside themselves that they have crossed, and they try and claw back their integrity: perhaps that's what this Goldman Sach’s executive was doing when he quit his lucrative and powerful position. I hope so. But how does a person find that line on a daily basis - before a crises of conscience demands that he do so?