As I cull the news to find good topics for ethics discussions, the single thought that goes through my mind most frequently is this: “What is the matter with people?” This is often followed by “How do people get this way?” and later, “What can we do with them?”
Most ethical decisions are not brain teasers. They are strikingly obvious, unless you are determined to do wrong, an evil super-villain, or were raised in a barn. How people of influence without a serious head injury can make the horrible decisions they do is one of the mysteries of the age, along with the fate of Judge Crater, the elusiveness of Bigfoot, and the continuing popularity of Jimmy Kimmel.
Imagine, for example, that you run a bank. The Three Stooges wannabes who you sent to repossess a home get the address wrong (the lawn hadn’t been mowed, so they “just assume”), and they trash the wrong house. They remove possessions, losing some, auctioning off others, damaging the rest. The innocent owner of the home comes to you and points out that your contractors screwed up outrageously, a fact that is beyond rebuttal. She presents you with a good faith estimate of the property that was lost—never mind the trauma of having her home emptied by strangers and the fact that she has had to live elsewhere for two weeks. What do you do?
If you are the president of the First National Bank in Wellston, here’s what you do, because you have a non-functioning ethics alarm and more than a few screws loose in other places besides: you reject her assessment, and try to low-ball her on the amount.
“What is the matter with people?”
“How do people get this way?”
The president, a man with the name that should live in infamy of Tony Thorne, if he were raised and educated with a properly functioning cerebrum and possessed of the decency Mother Nature gave a badger, would take the owner’s bill, double it, write her a check, fall on his knees to ask forgiveness, and promise not to sleep until the woman’s home was as inviting, well-furnished and stocked with necessities as it was when Moe, Larry and Curly struck. But no. Mr. Thorne was evidently was not so raised, and has no such qualities, at least in a sufficient quantity, so this Ethics Dunce that walks like a man is determined to affirm every negative stereotype regarding bankers since the heyday of melodrama. He will ruin the bank’s reputation, alienate the community, subject his employer to petitions, the barbs of comics and, one hopes, a massive lawsuit, and pretty much ensure that his next career path will involve posing for photos with children from inside a giant, air-cooled. brightly-colored furry costume.
Accountability? “What?” Compassion? Empathy? Fairness? “Excuse me, I’m not reading you.” The Golden Rule? “Huh?” Ethics? “Sorry, this bank doesn’t carry that.” Like the brain-numbing news accounts of teachers punishing young children for the shapes they bite into their pizzas, the First National Bank in Wellston has allowed itself to fall under the control of the awful, dangerous, life-sullying subspecies of human who can’t perceive the importance of doing the right thing, rather than what some lame, poorly drawn, badly planned and inapplicable policy or directive dictates.The question of how the Tony Thornes of the world get this way is important to explore so we may prevent future similar mutations, but now the only pertinent question is
“What can we do with them?”
The consequences of this miserable conduct must be swift and unequivocal for both organization and representative—-for the organization/employer, mass-communicated humiliation and financial retribution, for the representative, in this case the heartless, senseless, ethicsless president, shame, shunning, and penury, so well publicized that future bank presidents who find themselves in his position, even if they are similarly devoid of virtue and wit, will know enough not to follow in his doomed path, out of sheer terror is sharing Thorne’s fate.
Only then can we ensure a society fit for human beings.
Pointer and graphic: Rick Jones