Of business ethics and moral compasses
Of business ethics and moral compasses
The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!
Scenes for discussion at your next dinner party
Opening Scene 1: Many years ago, I was offered many thousands of dollars to do a Turn Your Passion into Profit workshop at a major venue in the states. I turned it down. Why? The workshop was being sponsored by a cigarette company. I just couldn’t see myself standing on stage with a big cigarette ad on a banner behind me. Even though I would be delivering information on self-empowerment and business success, I would be associated with and indirectly supporting the improved brand-identity, and agenda of the sponsoring company.
Cut to Scene 2: I once won a trip for two to a tropical island. Part of the requirements and terms of accepting the prize was that my name and/or photo could be used in future promotions for the company. The sponsor was an alcohol company. I refused the prize for the same reasons as for Scene 1 above.
Fade to Scene 3: A few days ago, someone asked me a question.
Him: Walt, what’s your religion?
Me: That’s a leading question.
Him: I mean, are you a Christian?
Me: [I paused to find the right answer.]
Him: Well, are you Muslim?
Me: Those aren’t the only options, you know. The question is not as bad as the ever-popular ’Have you stopped beating your wife?’ trap, but it’s almost like asking, ’What kind of gun do you carry?’ It starts with an underlying presumption that doesn’t step back far enough in objectivity.
Him: Ok, well do you believe in God?
Me: Again, the question is flawed. Of course, if I was forced to answer yes, or no, I would say yes, but that really doesn’t tell you anything about me. For one thing, you don’t know whether we actually share the same concept of God. My god could be a turnip, for all you know.
What’s more important, for me, when I meet or do business with someone is not to determine what particular religion (if any) she claims to belong to, but to see if she shares the same sense of personal ethics and moral compass that makes us compatible. Many crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of religion. Many Klansmen claim to be good Christians, and many terrorists claim to be good Muslims.
It’s a person’s overall belief system and if their actions are consistent with those beliefs that matter to me.
Dissolve to Scene 4
A few nights ago, some friends and I had a lively discussion about different products to sell in business. Their own view was that a business owner merely fulfills a need for the public.
Them: If the public wants processed meat, sell ’em processed meat. If they want cheeseburgers, sell ’em cheeseburgers. If they want cigarettes, sell ’em those too. One product is just as worthy as another.
Walt: But what if I believe smoking cigarettes is both personally, publicly and environmentally harmful? And, what if I don’t believe people should kill and eat animals?
Them: People have a choice. You’re not forcing them to buy it.
Even though as the seller, I’m not the one doing the killing or smoking, wouldn’t I be violating my own personal ethics by selling something that contributes to the killing of animals and contributes to people’s (as well as my own "secondhand") deteriorating health? Heck, just so you know where I stand: If for some reason I had a can of soda lying around my house, I wouldn’t offer it to a guest to drink since I believe it’s poison, even if they think it’s food. We (myself included) all admit I’m a bit strange that way.)
That’s just my opinion
So my own choices are guided less by how much money there is to make, but simply if I feel good about what I am promoting. Does it fit with my own sense of what is right and wrong? In dealing with people from many cultures and creeds, it seems that there is an underlying belief that business is merely about filling a need. And that “good” businesses to get into—meaning those businesses that can make big money—are inherently and necessarily those that pander to vices, or not-so-healthy desires.
The difference between morals and ethics.
Now, before I ask you to consider where you stand on this issue, let me offer a few definitions.
Morals are what a society decides are in its best survival interests.
This varies from society to society, and what’s frowned upon by one society can be perfectly morally acceptable in another. A moral code, therefore, is a series of agreements to which a person has subscribed to guarantee the survival of a specific group—the group, in this case, being society.
A survival action is a moral action. And those things are considered immoral which are considered contrasurvival—or contrary to the survival of the group
Ethics, on the other hand, is the study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by the individual in his relationship with others. It’s based on one’s personal beliefs about what is right and wrong. An ethical code, therefore, is the set of certain restrictions indulged in to better the manner of conduct of one’s life. A person conducts himself according to such a code because he wants to, or because he feels he is proud enough or decent enough or civilized enough to so conduct himself. Ethics is a personal thing.
So, for example, if the society through agreement, and enforced by its laws, agrees that it is immoral and therefore illegal to grow and sell your own herbs, or to offer a service that is deemed against the group’s best interest, then it can become a personal ethical challenge when you engage in that activity. At the same time, just because something is deemed acceptable by the society and its laws (say the death penalty), doesn’t mean your personal sense of ethics makes you comfortable with engaging in or supporting that activity, and that is the point of discussion for today’s column.
So, where do you draw the line?
Here are some questions I’d like to challenge you to consider today:
* How far will I go in the furtherance of my business agenda?
* Where are my own sense of personal ethics and moral compass guiding me?
* What does my belief system—my religion, as it were—tell me is right and wrong for me to do?
* As a business owner, do I simply provide a need, and simply sell whatever is "legal" to sell regardless of whether I personally believe in it?
* Or do I offer the world something that moves it in a positive and uplifting direction, according to my own beliefs and passion?
* Do, can I, should I personally sell a product I know to be harmful?
* [Personal] As a coach, do I help others succeed in business if they choose to sell such products that are not in synch with my own beliefs?
Just some things to chat about at your next social gathering, and when you do, please include me in the discussion!
P.S.: Of course, all of this matters only if your belief system is out of synch with that of your target audience. If, to use the examples above, you have absolutely no personal issues with assassinating animals, bellowing smoke to the detriment of your own and others’ health, chugging down a pint of brew and killing a few brain cells every now and then, then today’s column is not for you! (Can you sense a bit of a bias, there?)
Note: Ever wanted to direct your friends and family to a set of websites that said good things about Saipan? Do what I do: send them to www.bestofsaipan.com!
Note: Fans and followers of the book, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan may now find copies here on Saipan at Fu Dogs & Qi (pronounced chi), Saipan’s only Asian Antiques Store, located on the first floor of the Nauru Building (the “360 building”) in Susupe.
Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!