Tag Archives: kindness

Morning Ethics Warm-up: 8/16/17

GOOD MORNING!

1. I’m heading to Boston and Fenway Park in a few hours to meet with two of my high school classmates and together pay our respects to the 1967 Boston Red Sox, the spiritual beginning of Red Sox Nation, and a group of men, then barely more than boys, who had as profound an effect on my life and view of it as anything I have ever experienced.

It’s the 50th Anniversary of that amazing team and the heart-stopping pennant race it won against all odds, in a four team race that came down to the final game of the regular season. I mean heart-stopping literally: the team wasn’t called “The Cardiac Kids” for nothing. TWO of my father’s colleagues at the Boston Five Savings Bank died of heart attacks while attending Red Sox games, during one of the 9th inning desperation rallies for which the team was famous. The only reason I didn’t perish in like fashion is because I was just 16 years old.

Why was this team, and that summer 50 years ago, so important to me? I don’t have time or space to answer that question well, and you’d probably wonder what I was babbling on about anyway. A 2017 film by Major League Baseball called “The Impossible Dream” does a fair job of explaining it, but it’s too short to do the job right.

I had listened to, watched or attended every Boston Red Sox game for five years, as the team lost and lost. From those bad teams, followed weakly by the city in those days, in a crumbling old park that seemed destined to be abandoned and torn down, I learned that winning wasn’t everything, that loyalty wasn’t easy, that Hemingway was right, and that baseball was about courage, humility, perseverance, doing your job every day, sacrifice, and hope, as well as usually losing at the end. That summer of 1967 taught me that hope is worth the effort even though hope is usually dashed by the ice water of reality, that you should never give up, that miracles do happen, and that nothing is as wonderful as when a community is united in a single, inspirational goal, no matter what that goal might be…and that you should never be afraid to give everything you have in pursuit of a mission, even when it is likely that you will fail.

I learned difficult, discouraging lessons, too. When an errant pitch hit Red Sox right-fielder Tony Conigliaro in the face on August 18, 1967, it was the beginning of a lesson that revealed its tragic last chapter 23 years later. That one taught me that life is horribly, frightening unpredictable, and that we envy others at our peril. It taught me that we need to do what we can to accomplish as much good as we can as quickly as we can, because we may lose our chance forever at any moment.

Tony C, as he was and is known as, was a beautiful, charismatic, local kid, the idol of Boston’s huge Italian-American community,  in his fourth season with his home town team at the age of 22. He dated movie stars; he recorded pop songs; he had a natural flair of the dramatic, and was destined for the Hall of Fame. One pitch took it all away. Although he had two comebacks and played two full seasons facing major league fastballs with a hole in his retina and his field of vision, Tony was never the same. After his final attempt to keep playing failed at the age of 30, he became a broadcaster, and at 37 was seemingly on the way to stardom again in 1982 when he suffered a massive, inexplicable heart attack—Tony  did not smoke, and had no family history of heart problems– that left him brain damaged until his death in 1990.

As Henry Wiggin, the star pitcher protagonist of the novel, play and movie “Bang the Drum Slowly” observes as he  reflects on the death of his catcher and roommate, everyone is dying, and we have to remember to be good to each other. But it’s so hard. Ethics is hard. The ethics alarms ring faintly when we are about the task of living, or not at all…

At the end of the story, the narrator, the best friend of the catcher (but not really that close a friend) recalls how quickly everyone on the baseball team went back to their selfish ways after their teammate went home to die Even the narrator, who was the leader of the effort to make the catcher feel loved and appreciated in his last days, ruefully recalls his own failing. The catcher had asked him a favor, just to send him a World Series program (the team won the pennant after he had become too ill to play), and he had forgotten to mail it until it was too late. How hard would it have been, the narrator rebukes himself, to just put it in an envelope and mail it? Why are we like that, he wonders?

1967 was the beginning of my exploration of that mystery too.

So I am going to Boston for the 30 minute ceremony. I can’t even stay for the game; I have a seminar to teach tomorrow morning, and the last flight out of Logan is at 9 PM. There will probably be just a small contingent from the Cardiac Kids: most of them are dead now, or too infirm even to walk onto the field. But Yaz will be there, and Gentleman Jim Lonborg; Rico Petrocelli, Mike Andrews, and maybe even Hawk Harrelson  and Reggie Smith. I will be there to say thank-you, that’s all.

And to show that I remember. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: World War II Veteran Marvin Strombo

Many Japanese soldiers during World War II went into battle carrying small “Rising sun” flags, the red sphere on the field of white, with the white field decorated by hundreds of classmates, family members and friends. The flags were for good luck, and to link soldiers to their loved ones while they fought for the Emperor.  I had never heard of this practice until today; my father served in the European theater, so he would not have known that many American soldiers took these personal talismans from the bodies of fallen Japanese soldiers as war trophies.

U.S. Marine Marvin Strombo was such a soldier. A member of  an elite sniper platoon during the bloody battle for the Pacific island of Saipan in 1944, he had taken a flag from a dead Japanese soldier lying on his left side—he remembered that the young man looked like he was  asleep—after he noticed something white sticking out from his jacket.

The flag with all the inscriptions on it hung behind glass in Strombo’s gun cabinet in his home in Montana for decades until 2012, when the son of his former commanding officer contacted him for assistance with a book he was writing about the exploits of his father’s platoon. (ARGHHH! I just remembered that I haven’t gotten back to a member of my Dad’s unit who wrote me a couple of months ago!) Working with the author,  Strombo learned about  the Obon Society, a nonprofit organization in Oregon that works to locate and return the personal Japanese flags to the families of the fallen soldiers who carried them. Researchers determined that the dead soldier Marvin’s flag had belonged to was named Yasue Sadao. What Strumbo thought was calligraphy were really the signatures of 180 friends and neighbors, including 42 relatives, who saw Yasue off to war from Higashi Shirakawa, a small village of about 2,400 people in the mountains roughly 200 miles west of Tokyo. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: The Chicago Cubs Organization

This was a wonderful gesture of kindness and reconciliation. It won’t mean much to those who don’t follow baseball, and that is Reason #478,653,222 why it’s a mistake not to follow baseball.

I’ve written about the Steve Bartman fiasco several times, both here and on the currently off-line Ethics Scoreboard.  I am not in the “Steve Bartman was an innocent victim of circumstance” camp, though he was a victim of moral luck. He was an  incompetent baseball fan, not paying sufficient attention to the game and interfering with it as a direct result. On the other hand, for members of the 2003 Cubs to use him as a scapegoat for their blowing a lead,  the game, and the play-offs, and for Chicago fans to hound him out of town and into hiding, was far worse than his negligence, the most disproportionate and vindictive treatment of a fan in sports history.

Here was my summary of the saga to date before the Cubs finally won the World Series after more than a century of failure:

Bartman, for those of you who have lived in a bank vault since 2003, was the hapless young Chicago Cubs fan who unintentionally interfered with a foul ball that might have been catchable by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in the decisive game of 2003 National League Championship Series. In a perfect display of the dangers of moral luck, Bartman’s mistake—it didn’t help that he was wearing earphones and watching the ball rather than the action on the field—began a chain of random events  that constituted a complete collapse by Chicago in that very same half-inning, sending the Miami Marlins and not the Cubs, who had seemed comfortably ahead, to the Series. Bartman, who issued a sincere and pitiful apology, was widely vilified and literally run out of town. He then became part of Cubs and baseball lore, one more chapter in the sad saga has been called “the Billy Goat Curse,” the uncanny inability of this team to win it all.

Yesterday the Cubs announced that the team had privately awarded Bartman  an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring as a special gift from the the Cubs organization. These things contain 214 diamonds at 5.5 karats, three karats of genuine red rubies and 2.5 karats of genuine sapphires, and are worth about $70,000. Even so,  the symbolism is worth far more.

Tom Ricketts, the Cubs owner, issued a statement: Continue reading

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Unethical Quote Of The Week: San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart

I find myself annoyed at the groundswell of good wishes for John McCain after his diagnosis of glioblastoma…McCain is a war criminal and, more to the point. someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health…But ultimately what troubles me is the urge to send such well wishes to an utter stranger as it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others. There are lots of people with glioblastoma and who have died from it (including my mother twenty years ago)….

San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart on Facebook, prompting some calls for him to be fired, and others on campus to second his opinion.

Is this an Ethics Quote or an Unethical Quote? I could call it  an Ethics Quote because it raises many ethical issues, and mere statements of opinions, even stupid and vicious ones, are not usually unethical in themselves. This quote strongly suggests that the speaker is unethical in  than one respect; it is also, at very least, irresponsible in its context, which is that he is a teacher, and represents the institution.

Jonathan Turley flagged this episode, as he reliably does any time a professor comes under fire for controversial speech. As always, he supports his fellow academic:

“Graubart’s comments are hurtful and hateful. It is a reflection of the incivility that has taken hold of our social and political dialogue. It is always sad to see a fellow academic rush to the bottom of our national discourse. However, we have free speech and academic freedom to protect unpopular, not popular, speech. Popular speech does not need protection. Graubart is expressing his deep political and social viewpoint on social media. He should be able to do that just as his critics have a right to denounce his views.”

San Diego State University is a government institution, and thus subject to the First Amendment, in addition to the principles of academic freedom. However, even a state institution  has a right to protect itself from harm. This isn’t just political speech; it is bona fide asshole speech, signaling that the speaker is not a trustworthy teacher, and that any school that would have someone this intolerant, doctrinaire, vile and contemptuous of kindness and compassion educating, aka indoctrinating students isn’t trustworthy either. Universities, public or not, should be able to insist on a minimal level of professionalism from faculty in their public behavior and pronouncements so the institution isn’t permanently discredited, embarrassed, and harmed.

Here is Graubart’s whole Facebook rant: Continue reading

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Ethics Heroes: Andy Mitchell, Samee Dowlatshahi, And Friends

 

Rockwall, Texas resident Andy Mitchell posted a photo on Facebook of himself and Justin Korva, a young stranger whom Mitchell had picked up and driven to his job after seeing him walking to work in his work uniform  in 90 degree weather. He was stunned and impressed to learn that Korva walks three miles each way to his low-paying job at Taco Casa, a fast food restaurant,

“To all the people that say they want to work but can’t find a job or don’t have a vehicle all I can say is you don’t want it bad enough!” Mitchell wrote on the Facebook post. Mitchell then used his post as a springboard to raise money to buy a car for Korva, who is 20.  It took less than 30 hours to raise $5,500. 

Samee Dowlatshahi, the owner of a pizza restaurant who had set up a donation box for Korva’s transportation inside his establishment,  contacted a friend at a local Toyota dealership. The friend told his boss about Korva, and persuaded the dealership to drop the price of a white 2004 Toyota Camry. This allowed Mitchell’s group to buy the car, pay Korva’s insurance for a year, and finance two years’ worth of oil changes along with a $500 gas card.

“Are you serious?” Korva said as Mitchell handed him the keys.

Dowlatshahi said,, “We just want you to know, seriously, this community, nothing we love better than to have someone who works hard. We take a lot of pride in that. It’s so hot out here, I can’t believe you walk even one mile in this heat.”

There is hope.

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Ethics Hero: Scott Steffel

Only 8 players in Major League Baseball history had hit 600 home runs, and last weekend the number became 9 as Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols reached the impressive milestone with a grand slam in the fourth inning of the June 3 game in Anaheim. Cal State Fullerton student Scott Steffel, a 23-year-old lifelong Angels fan, caught the ball in his glove. Such a souvenir is a collector’s dream, and catching it a baseball fan’s once-in-a-lifetime dream-come-true.

Yet Scott Steffel gave the ball back to Albert Pujols, the man who hit it. He didn’t ask for money or a truck-load of autographed bats and gloves.   He didn’t think about how much money Pujols had )millions and millions) and that the ball was figuratively made of gold. He just gave it back, saying that he didn’t feel it belonged to him, but Pujols:

“It’s not my ball, it’s his. He deserves it. He’s one of the best baseball players right now. Of all time.”

Bravo.

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Ethics, Motives, Killing With Kindness, “Amadeus” And Related Matters

On a thread about the hysterical doom-sayers in response to the US’s exit from the Paris accords on climate change, one dedicated defender of progressive orthodoxy, lacking a genuine rebuttal for the proposition that the social media and pundit panic was nonsense (for there is none), defaulted to the argument that the withdrawal was unethical because the President’s stated motives for it were untrue. This raised two issues, one centuries old, and the other, an irritating one, of more recent vintage.

In order to sanctify many of the Obama administration’s policy botches, many people have adapted  aggressive versions of three prime rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms List: #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”; #13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”) and #14. Self-validating Virtue. To refresh your memory:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people sometimes do bad things because they are good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem they begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

This has led to the seeming absurdity of recent arguments, some accepted in court, that the same conduct can be right or wrong, depending on whether the conduct is based on “good” motives, and who is the actor. Since, to take one random example, Barack Obama is obviously good and means well, even inept, poorly planned and irresponsible policies are ethical. Because President Trump is a villain, the same conduct emanating from his dastardly motives would make the same conduct unethical. I have dealt with this biased approach before and will again, but not today.

It is the second, older question that concerns me at the moment, and that is whether human motives should be used in the analysis of whether conduct is ethical or not. The conundrum come up repeatedly in one of my favorite ethics books,  “The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten.Continue reading

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