Natoli Business Ethics Essay
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Natoli Business Ethics Essay
It takes a village. Every thought in our heads, every action we take
is a product of the society we were raised in. People from different
parts of the world have different levels of tolerance and definitions
of justice and equality. Even though borders blur and societies
merge, cultural idiosyncrasies remain. That is true from a legal
standpoint, and especially true from an ethical perspective. When
we find ourselves in ethical dilemmas, our response is often a
reflection of what we know – the standards set by society, our own
moral compass and our level of education. Societies and
institutions, however, often fail to exemplify what is right. This is
where education comes in and picks up the torch.
In a beautiful island in the Pacific lies a chaotic city where traffic
cops dance and the train commute is a game of sardines. Beggars
litter the streets with creative means of eliciting pity and street
hawkers abound with wares both bizarre and questionable. It is a
real-world paradox where abundance collides with poverty and
Catholicism is as inextricable as corruption. This is Manila, my
hometown. This is a society where rules are broken constantly,
systematically and unapologetically that ethical misconduct is
petty by comparison. Small indignities are shrugged off, and there
is a pervasive, silent admission that the need to put food on the
table undercuts the need for morality. This is a society that makes
it easy for the weak to be exploited and even easier for the cunning
to do so with impunity.
At the age of eighteen, I moved to Boston and had a rude
awakening. There was no crude divide between the rich and the
poor, and people’s civil liberties were valued and protected. I was
baffled when there was a lengthy debate on the use of “Merry
Christmas” versus the more politically correct “Happy Holidays,”
or when an employee was fired for a seemingly innocuous status
update made on Facebook. People and institutions always had to
walk a fine line and it mattered greatly whether they overstepped
or not. I had always dismissed these issues as first-world
hypersensitivity – I could not be more wrong. Firms are said to
suffer from an ethical drift or “a gradual, unconscious lowering of
moral standards” (Bailey 2013). Leaders slowly set the
environment of the workplace by every decision they make, which
in turn, affects the behavior of each worker. When scandal after
scandal broke in the financial world, each one was attributed to
unethical behaviour. Powerful firms collapsed and promising
careers ended with prison sentences and a lifetime of shame.
Harvard Business School Dean, Nitin Nohria, points out that most
people attribute ethical failings to “one bad apple,” when in fact,
the institution as a whole is corrupt that even good apples fall prey
to their ways (as cited in Lau 2013). In other words, we become
unwitting players and victims in a system – be it a firm, a city or a
country. The way out is education because as Nohria adds, far
from being told explicitly what is right and wrong, students need to
be “reminded of their responsibilities. Just as most people
overestimate how smart they are, many may overestimate how
good they are” (as cited in Lau 2013). Education then is a
preventive measure. It brings awareness that comes with a broader
understanding of real-world possibilities and our own fallibilities.
It allows us to separate ourselves from the environment or culture
in order to respond to ethical dilemmas more prudently.
Culture is difficult to change. In developing countries, for example,
businesses in the beginning stages forego morality for survival.
Once it is past the survival stage, however, corrupt practices have
become so ingrained in the culture that changing them is difficult
(Rossouw 1994). Human beings are also known to suffer from
what is called a status quo bias – an irrational form of decision-
making that leads an individual to prefer her current state over
other alternatives (Masatlioglu & Ok 2005). In other words,
acceptance of an unpleasant situation is preferred to the discomfort
of changing it. Moreover, when people lack information, they are
often propelled into a vicious cycle of dependence, system
justification and a further avoidance of relevant information
(Shepherd & Kay 2011). The uninformed, the easiest prey of any
perverse system, therefore, are also the least likely to get out.
Education is key to end this vicious cycle.
Ellie Wiesel famously said, “There may be times when we are
powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when
we fail to protest.” The grey area between moral and immoral is
rife with temptation that it is futile to believe people will never
stray. Education is a multilateral approach that seeks to prevent
injustice but also endeavors to rectify it once it is already inflicted
– this is true across borders. An informed mind questions and seeks
answers. It realizes the difference between what has always been
and what should be. It also allows an individual to realize that in
every situation is a choice, one that has nothing to do with any
Bailey, S 2013 ‘Business Leaders Beware: Ethical Drift Makes
Standards Slip’, Forbes, 15 May Availabe from
<http://www.forbes.com>. [12 July 2013].
Lau, J 2013 ‘Harvard Business School Dean on Ethics and Global
Education’, The New York Times, 26 March. Available from
<http://www.nytimes.com>. [13 July 2013].
Masatlioglu, Y & Ok, E 2005 Journal of Economic Theory, vol.
121, pp. 1-29. Roussouw, GJ 1994, ‘Business Ethics in Developing
Countries,’ Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 4, issue 1, pp. 43-51.
Shepherd, S & Kay, A 2012 Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, vol. 102, no. 2, pp 264-280.