This is a subject that seems to be on everyone’s mind at the moment and it is a big question as we all think we are as honest as the day is long. That we have a well developed moral compass and our integrity and ethics shine through. We are that person most people strive to be or are we?
I started thinking about the issue several weeks ago when I joined a Chartered Management Institute discussion on LinkedIn. It came to the forefront of my mind again when I watched the BBC programme Nick & Margaret “We all pay your benefits”.
We are all individuals and what each of us classes as moral or ethical differs. There are many factors that have a bearing on this including, upbringing, education, location, culture, religion, job or career and our peer group. That’s not an exhaustive list by the way.
Sat in the comfort of your living room you might think it disgusting and reprehensible that a man would eat a cat. That man may live in a country where poverty can mean death and the only way he and his family will see tomorrow is to eat the cat. You’re the one making the moral judgement he’s just eating to survive.
That’s an easy example and we all make value judgements about others on a daily basis. There are the usual “bankers have no morals” and “all estate agents are liars” to “all builders are cowboys”. Each of these has a grain of truth but they are generally just that, generalisations. You could pick any job or group of people and find a generalised statement that “fits” if you want to.
The Nick & Margaret programme is a good example of this as four benefits claimants are paired up with four people who are working. The workers perceptions before meeting the claimants was that they might be lazy have given up or just want to live on benefits. By the end of the first programme most of their preconceptions had changed.
The British Government does not condone bribery and those found guilty can end up in prison. But in some countries what we call bribery is oiling the wheels of industry and gaining introductions to business contacts. So is the official who takes the payment (bribe) corrupt, has he lost his moral compass or integrity or is he simply a product of the system and culture he lives in?
Professor Nick Chater of Warwick University and BBC Radio Four’s The Human Zoo contends that “having a good character is not a permanent state and we are all in a constant battle against deceitful behaviour”
Just to add to that argument last week my wife and I went to our favourite Indian restaurant Mahabharat and as usual the food, service and atmosphere was excellent. When the bill came we realised that we had not been charged for a bottle of wine and duly called the waiter and paid for it.
On the way out my wife posed the question that had we been in a restaurant which we had not been in before or where the food or service had been average what would we have done?
We class ourselves as people who are honest, moral and have integrity but neither of us could give an honest answer to that question. So I hope we are never in that position.
I’ll leave the final comment to professor Chater “We all live in glass houses and shouldn’t be so quick to condemn those caught up in scandal”