Friday, April 13, 2007

A Coincidence? I Think Not...

This started as a comment to be posted in the running discussion under my earlier post Question of the Day. We've got a pretty heated comment thread happening, so go read that, and come back here to discuss! :-)

So, to go back to our previously scheduled programming, here's what I was writing in my comment before I realized I wanted this story to be more prominent:

First of all, I am not saying that ethical behaviour is a knee-jerk instinctive reaction. Should have left an example.

[pause, to think of, find an example]

Here's one: the CFO of Menu Foods sold his stocks before the story of tainted dog food broke. (Coincidence? Ha.) Let's take this at face value -- he knew what was coming, he sold his stocks. In his mind then, the first item on his list of values, when push comes to shove (not necessarily what he would have said if asked to list his values), is to look after No. 1, Himself.

But he calls it a horrible coincidence, and says:
"I hold myself to the highest ethical and moral standards possible. I wouldn't do anything to imperil the high governance standards that I demand of myself or anybody in the company."
Okay. How many CFOs, CEOs, what-have-you, wake up one day and say, "Today, I'm going to sell 42% of my stock in the company, just for laughs." It's completely unwise from a business perspective, isn't it? It would put the stock exchange on alert, panic investors...

In my opinion, here's a guy who if you asked him, would say he was moral/ethical, but when push came to shove, he did the 'wrong' thing, and now he's compounding it, by lying (assuming he didn't sell his stocks on a whim in a "horrible coincidence").

Okay, now Azahar asked an interesting question in the discussion at the other post:
So by definition, if we act outside of what is considered correct, are we being unethical if we are still adhering to our own personal ethical code?
Maybe, this guy is being completely honest with himself, and his set of core values. Perhaps the first item in his personal ethical code is: "Any behavour is okay as long as I'm looking out for Number One."




raincoaster said...

I should not be online right now, but here's an interesting post from Eteraz relating to your earlier question of whether ethical behaviour can be taught or not. Of course, Rousseau also had much to say on the subject, but I'm too lazy to find you a link.

azahar said...

Interesting twisting of my words there!

Lori said...

Thanks -- I'll go take a look at it. Go to bed!

True, Azahar...your intended meaning was, I believe, more ambiguous behaviour -- perhaps like if your friend turns out to be a drug dealer, and you turn her into the police?

Your question just intrigued me. And made me think, if it's one's core values that are difficult, if not impossible to change, how does that effect our perceived moral/ethical behaviour?

azahar said...

Well, by 'a personal ethical code' I certainly didn't mean simply looking out for number one and fuck everyone else.

Do people who operate that way actually have values?

Anyhow, it might get a bit confusing since there are now two threads here talking about pretty much the same thing. At least, I get very easily confused, especially as I can't link to RSS Blogger comments, only new posts.

Lori said...

Az, I know. Confusing. But I wanted the story in this post to be more prominent than buried in a comment thread.

I think the main discussion is still on the other post!

azahar said...

Don't worry about me - I'm easily confused. And probably way too used to challenging h2g2 debate threads. It seems that things are done quite differently in blogland.

See you back over at RD's place in the booknook.