Saturday, August 18, 2007

Can Ethics Be Taught

The jury is still out. I however believe it's in your DNA. You either are or aren't an ethical person. The events over the past summer have convinced me that people will do anything to justify their actions. When I ran for school board over 30 years ago I asked my campaign manager what to tell my constituents. He shared with me the politicians credo; "Tell them what they want to hear", "that way you neither lie or tell the truth".

It's interesting that since that time---lying has become the official language of the White House. Whether it's Bush, Rove, Cheney or Rumsfeld when he was there, or whether it's your boss, girlfriend, wife, or husband, we have all learned how to lie from our parents. They were the first people we observed, so it's learned behaviour. My father was a master manipulator---he was able to make everybody wrong and make himself right on just about everything.---even if it really wasn't the truth. I learned from the Master, and until I got help to realize I was doing it, I honestly believed I was doing nothing wrong.

Here's my theory; If it's in the DNA, then George Snr. passed it on to George Jnr., Cheney Snr. passed it on to Cheney Jnr. , and so on and so on. By the way, after years of driving my Mother and I to psychiatrists, he himself was diagnosed as a clinical sociopath. Here are the characteristics of a sociopath; People with anti-social personality disorder, also called psychopaths, can do much more harm if they are in positions where they have power and authority, they may ruin the lives of lots of people. They are often very convincing and are very good at getting what they want. Sometimes the best way to deal with this kind of people, is to avoid all contact and cooperation with them.

In general, it is difficult to treat a person with anti-social personality disorder. To try to get them to understand that they are hurting other persons are often difficult, because they don't have any conscience, and it is hard to help them get one. It may have some effect to convince them that it is in their own interest to change, because their behaviour are hurting themselves in the long run. If that isn't bad enough, most people who show sociopath behavior aren't just sociopaths. They often also have narcissistic tendencies, sometimes intensely angered by anything that seems to suggest that he or she might have a flaw. In this mode, they will do anything, including brutalizing their own family, to maintain their own feeling that others see them as without any flaws. The combination is terribly painful to live with. Does this sound like someone you know...intimately?

This past summer I met with the founder and leader of a small independent, and as yet unaccredited, educational institution. That should have been my first clue. When I visited their campus. I discovered it really wasn't their campus. but someone else's they were running. It's amazing that we continue to trust or believe in our fellow man, despite the fact that they continue to let us down.

Somewhere deep inside I think we really want to trust someone...anyone. Despite that we are at the lowest level of trust of government and companies since the 1930's. I grew up in the 40's and 50's when there was an unwritten code of ethics, that if you shook hands with someone it was a deal. "You have my word on it"..meant something! Sadly it doesn't work that way anymore. Today a handshake is even toxic thanks to Howie Mandell's paranoia fear of germs causing imminent death.

Not only is a handshake toxic but so is a verbal commitment. That doesn't work either anymore as I found out. This is a rude awakening for an author who just wrote a book on ethics and right action. Here's the irony by the way, the Institute I speak of offers MBA's in sustainable business. Here's the glaring contradiction, let's tell others how to run an ethical business but let's not run one ourselves.

Teaching ethics is easy, teaching people about sustainability is easy too. Living and practicing an ethical life is a lot different. There are plenty of sociopath vegetarians leaving their eco-footprint I met one. Having worked at Universities I can tell you that it's particularly easy for academics to hide behind their course syllabus or intellectual jargon, which soon becomes, "verbal diarrhea". Just as politicians dance as fast as they can, so do academics.

In the 50;s and 60;s people were expected to always tell the truth. Today we are overwhelmed by anyone who has the slightest hint of integrity. Back to the DNA theory----if you were taught by your parents to always tell the truth, how honest do you think you would be with people. I would suspect that given your DNA, your chances are pretty good. If for example, you interview someone for a job and told them you were interested in them and then changed your mind and decided you weren't ...what part of that is a lie. We do it all the time, except we cover it, by saying my CFO told me I can't hire you., which means I'm lying but not really because to tell you the truth would make me wrong, and sociopaths don't like to be wrong. I think these examples are merely the tip of the iceberg. 90% of all people are dysfunctional in some way, and if you assessed CEO;s employers and employees, senior management, middle management, receptionists, it wouldn't matter, you will find a virtual tsunami fallout of untreated mental disorders affecting the way we do business and run our lives in North America.

Instead of references and CV's we should be giving everyone a personality assessment by qualified psychologists. Sociopaths are clever and can make it through the interview process, but they can't lie on a psychological assessment. I would suspect half the CEO's in this country would not be hired. Sociopaths who never get help, never like to admit they are wrong. As we said, Narcissism is the Sociopaths best friend...what a deadly combination. If you know someone like this...avoid contact at all cost.

I open the floor for debate, what's been your experience with truth and ethics, can it be taught or is in your DNA, and are you working for or living with a narssistic sociopath ?

N.B. By the way, e-mails are a great way to hide the truth. You can't see their eyes, hear the tonality in their voice or see their body language. I'll leave you with my favorite line; "I don't trust anyone except you and I---and I'm a little concerned about you".