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Ethics and the Recession

This must be my year to be preachy. I’ve already written three blogs about lying!

I was thinking this morning about whether values, morals, ethics have shifted with the economic downturn, and my conclusion is that things are worse. People have understandably gone into survival mode, become more desperate, and are becoming inured to the traits that made us great as a nation. So I googled this topic, and sure enough, there is already a book on it. In The Ethics Recession: Reflections on the Moral Underpinnings of the Current Economic Crisis, author Rushworth Kidder (gotta love the name) makes the point that integrity has declined, but fortunately, there are many things we can do to turn this around. Many other speeches and essays have surfaced this year on the topic of values shifts in this recession, and I see this as a good sign – at least people are thinking about it.

Harvard Professor and former CEO of Medtronic, Bill George, said last week at a symposium on ethics: “Business leaders of today focus on personal gains and instant gratification.” Citing a survey, George said that 66% of Americans surveyed believe we have a leadership crisis in the United States.

I believe the media perpetuates this two ways: Firstly, news stations sensationalize things done wrong by business leaders. When is the last time you heard a lead story about a leader standing up for what is right? Secondly, much to the delight of many and the chagrin of others, news outlets have become polarized, just like much of our population. The media have always been accused of bias, but now, they have an agenda, and much of what we see, hear and read is propaganda, not news.

I’m not sure what will turn this around, except individuals and organizations making a conscious choice. Kidder says we need “more ethical organizational cultures.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

The holidays are coming. A time of reflection. Anyone who has survived the past two years has a lot to be thankful for, and we can all look forward to better times soon. Let’s handle it responsibly.