“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is a seasonal favorite for kids and adults young at heart. If Rudolph brings back warm, fuzzy childhood memories, this analysis may bother some. Consider stopping here and move on. If you like the Grinch, keep reading.
“Business Schools Breed Unethical Businessmen”, by Edward L. Queen, Director of Ethics and Servant Leadership Program at Emory University, can be compared to the holiday movie. Mr. Queen’s article discusses recent pharmaceutical price gouging, Volkswagen’s scheme to knowingly evade environmental standards, and the inability of business students to identify when an ethical issue arises and what to do about it if identified.
The ethicist concludes the value of human beings is a monetized formula. He observes societies and organizations have “no sense of being” without fancy cars, fine clothes, and expensive jewelry.
Of course monetization has happened throughout human history, though it seems more prevalent than ever. Mr. Queen is making the logical and too often overlooked conclusion that ethics will fail, if divorced (this is an interpretation) from meaning and the goodness found in humanity.
Put another way, individuals and organizations who define success through appearance and tangibles like profits, degrees, or big bonuses for employees have what also can be called “lost sense of self”.
Mr. Queen sees a problem both with culture and education. He’s right. Think about the holiday favorite referenced above. Rudolph and Hermey the elf are rejected for their individuality. One has a glowing nose and the other doesn’t want to make toys and wishes to be in the little known profession of dentistry. Even Santa, Father Christmas, has little kindness for them at first.
It seems individual and collective guilt of the in-crowd brings the runaways back into the fold. Once that occurs it’s discovered the bright red nose has a use, thus saving Santa’s reputation to deliver the goods. And Hermey is also valuable. The failed toymaker is allowed to bring relief to the cavity ridden residents of the North Pole eating too many sugary cookies baked by Mrs. Claus. Ho, ho, ho.
Rudolph and Hermey are monetized. They have star status.
The message to kids reinforced every year – your mere existence doesn’t make you needed, wanted, or special. If you don’t produce something marketable you’re not successful. You’re nothing. Your toys, clothes, and social status define you and help determine your popularity.
By contrast think about the values given to kids in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. The smelly, ill-tempered, narcissistic pot-bellied green creature was accepted unconditionally, with no expectations and that changed everything.
This is not to suggest that unconditionally loving the business tycoon or Wall Street banker or their minions shaking the money tree will automatically change platinum hearts, but there is something to be said for how we raise children, educate young men and women in business programs, and the expectations society places on corporate leaders.
Rudolph and the suggestion offered by Mr. Queen to redefine the meaning of success speak to subtle, widely accepted social, cultural, and business values that give individuals a false sense of self. Rather than emphasize monetized success – why not first challenge staff and colleagues during training with the questions, “Are you a successful human being? If so why? How does that translate into your work?”
Changing MBA education to better emphasize empathetic ethics linking office decisions with the flesh and blood impacts on families and individuals will not happen overnight. Case studies need to shift from when companies do bad things like knowingly putting defective products into the stream of commerce that cause deaths (marginalized as statistics) to focusing on the faces, names, and personal stories behind those losses.
Organizations can’t wait for that to happen. They need to start conditioning employees about how empathy and compassion must find their way into the stream of commerce. This requires a new way of thinking about training, workshops, and the re-enforcement of fundamental values that make us “human”, in the best sense of the word.
Paul P. Jesep, JD, MPS, MA is the author of Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically. He is an attorney and corporate chaplain and does consulting on ethics, compliance, and inner wellbeing for professionals (www.EthicalAndCompliant.com and www.Corporate Chaplaincy.biz).