As I write this, it still appears that the governor of Illinois is resolved to “fight, fight, fight.” This embarrassment comes at the same time that the biggest fraud in American investment history, a Ponzi scheme, has just wiped out $50 billion of wealth, much of it belonging to charitable foundations.
Trust in leaders in politics, finance, business and religion is at an all-time low. What will you do to help your organization learn about integrity? In the past few years, I have been called on to design, deliver, sponsor and participate in myriad “ethics” programs. There likely is no business on the planet that does not have a written set of values, and perhaps the most common denominator of those values statements is integrity.
For all of the positive intent of those statements and the ethics programs that go with them, nothing is as prevalent as a lack of integrity. We seem to think dishonesty is isolated to a few bad apples and that proclaiming the value of truth will get it done; yet, the facts don’t support this comforting misjudgment. Many of our most corrupt politicians won their seats with a declaration to reform government and free it of the fraud that they were eventually fully engaged in themselves.
What’s going on here? Was P.T. Barnum right? Are we all just suckers? Are we so passive, impotent and naive that we will stand by and let those with powerful positions and strong personalities lie, steal and cheat innocent people out of their retirement accounts, their life savings, their jobs and their future?
The answer seems to be yes, when we are blinded by self-interest. We are so distracted by our own concerns and demands that we have little time or energy to worry about the morality that affects the common good. As long as the returns are steady and attractive, we won’t do much to investigate.
There also seems to be an assumption that either one has or does not have integrity. Again, the facts don’t support this assertion. Integrity is like the value of a stock. It goes up and down with market conditions and each of us is susceptible to misjudgments and failures of character.
The development of character is a lifetime task. When one of the brightest analysts on Wall Street was asked how the Bernard Madoff scandal could have gone on for so long and become so large, his comment was, “complicit ignorance.” While it was obviously too good to be true that Madoff earned 24 percent a year and never lost money, intelligent people chose to ignore this total absence of logic because they were enjoying the illusion of 2 percent growth per month, every month for years and years.
There you have it. It doesn’t matter if you are management or union, young or old, male or female, brilliant or average, religious or not. We all have feet of clay and are swayed by self-interest when we are interpreting the events and the people around us. To paraphrase Pogo, I have found the enemy and he is me.
When selfishness wins, we all lose. It destroys the fabric of human civilization. Mutual, well-founded trust is not just a nice-to-have virtue: It is the essential building block of commerce and society. Remove it and we all fall down. But wagging my finger at others misses the point.
Self-righteous indignation is not the antidote. This is an inside job. In the end, it is character that counts. Yet, we live in an age in which nothing seems as corruptible as character. On a recent NPR segment, Scott Simon said the following as he bemoaned the sad state of current leaders: “The politicians I have gotten to like the most — and they’re from both parties — wear their virtue lightly; they know it can be fragile.” His wise statement is a reminder to all who aspire to hold the reins of leadership that a slippery slope awaits them. Be forewarned that more often the mighty have fallen on the swords of their own folly and ego than been felled by opponents’ arrows.
Perhaps the greatest contribution we can make to each other is to remind ourselves that there is an interest that far outshines the accumulation of personal power, money or accolade. The possibility to do something humbly to make our world a better, safer, saner place for all people is the highest reward. To replace hubris with service and to serve an interest greater than self-interest, this is a jewel of great price.Filed under: Learning Delivery