Leading Ethically Only is an educational outreach of Leadership Ethics Online (LEO). Essays range widely--from ethical analysis of the news, to ethical challenges to leaders in society, to personal reflections of an ethical nature. We welcome your thoughts and criticisms to make us better.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Leading Positively in Negative Circumstances

Life is complex.  Life brings us into contact daily with negative people and situations.  Family, work, neighbors, national and international news, all can present us with negative information.  The fact is, we cannot control others or conditions around us.  We have some choices.  Do we allow others to control our emotions, thoughts, and actions, or do we decide to control our responses in positive outcomes?

Understanding Our Power and Authority

Very often we are battered by our contacts with other persons and situation.  We wake up in the morning with our priorities, then are hit like ping pong balls to go zinging off in directions that seem beyond our control.  Others zap us with their emotions, statements, and behaviors, for whatever reason.  Too many of us allow others to alter our daily directions and effectiveness with our permission.  How do we change this pattern?

If we are to be in charge of our own lives, we must understand our personal power and authority to control how we spend our limited emotions, thinking, and behaviors.  No one else has this power, right, and capacity.  We are the only ones responsible for either keeping our daily focus and invested energies, or giving them up.  We must be inner-driven, not outer-driven.

Let us use the analogy of boats, ping pong balls, and directional compasses.  If a boat has a broken rudder, or has no anchor, when storms and winds blow, the boat is driven wherever external forces take it.  If a ping pong ball is picked up and hit, it will zing off in whatever direction sent.  If a compass is never used, its needle showing "north" cannot give bearings on which way to travel.

When we are outer-driven, we are like boats without rudder or anchor, like ping pong balls waiting to be sent off in space, and like compass owners who fail to use their directional tools.  One of the greatest enemies to our happiness and satisfaction at home, work, and in life, is when we become victims as outer-driven people.  When we are outer-driven, we are followers.

When we are inner-driven, we are prepared to face external conditions so we remain in control of our life resources, our responses, and how we use our energies and talents.  One of the greatest reasons successful people continue to be successful, even despite unusually great challenges at home and work, is they (a) know who they are; (b) know where they want to go; and (c) remain focused on their goals.  When we are inner-driven, we are leaders.

Contact Leadership Ethics Online to find out more on how to become an inner-driven leader.  We can help you to recognize outer-driven forces keeping you from being true to yourself and your real life and career goals.  We can help you define and remain faithful to the inner-driven goals that will keep you moving forward every day and week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Essential Place of Love and Healthy Leadership

What I am about to write is profoundly true, Good Reader, so I ask your careful consideration of these things.  It required years of living to come to these conclusions, and they are offered to you out of love, though I never will see your face.

Love as Attraction and Attachment

During my research for my doctorate, one of the tasks I set for myself was to understand the precise nature of love and hate.  I had to complete this task as I worked on the history of violence among the religions.  The former essentially is attraction and attachment, the latter is revulsion and avoidance.  We can have love, then, for people, places, things, everything.

Speaking biologically, however, our emotional foundations and capacities for love are created in our earliest experiences with our parents and families.  For most of us, that is good news.  For some of us, that is not such good news.  When little babies are welcomed and loved, they become people who welcome and love others into their circles of trust and commitment.  When they are unwanted, even if never told that, their deep and natural emotional needs are not met, and they grow up to become people less apt to trust and commit to loving and natural relationships.  Yet, for those of us who were unfortunately born into less loving families--or who have suffered deep rejections or harms--the good news is, we are not destined to be chained to those experiences.

If a dog is mistreated and abused, we know it will become distrustful and may bite.  It avoids humans because of what it has experienced.  Nevertheless, we also know that such scarred creatures almost always can be helped to heal, if not completely, then at least in wonderful ways to learn again to trust and love again.  Horses and other animals show us this is the truth.

The fact remains that we human beings have our mammalian, biological natures.  And whether we have grown up in healthy love, or been harmed by unhealthy experiences, the good news is we can learn to grow, we can learn to heal, and to experience the great, deep inner need we have to be loved, and to be healthy by loving others.

Love in the Role of a Leader?

Leadership training typically does not include the role of love.  Oh, yes, there are people who talk about "self-esteem" and "self-concept" or "self-actualization."  And these all are related to love.  Yet I have come to believe firmly that we must talk about love openly and honestly, if we are to go deep into the emotional structures that make us who we are, and that affect how we relate to ourselves, our families, our colleagues, our customers, and all people we meet in the world.

Reciprocity is a natural law.  Normal healthy people respond with reciprocity.  If we are loved, we love back.  If we are struck, we strike back.  And, if we want to be respected and followed by our workforces, then we must respect them and follow closely the needs they have as human beings.  Oh, we may be told they are "human assets" or our HR departments may manage them more as "things" than individuals.  But they are human beings, just like you and me.  And they, like us, want to be respected and loved.  They want to give respect and love.

Granted, workplace purposes, goals, outcomes, and relationships are what they are.  It appears to us that there is no place for discussing or considering "love," since this falls into some kind of non-business, subjective, emotional, impractical category.  People must be hired and fired.  Production and business needs demand leaders act based on the balance sheet.  It is my opinion these are half-truths promoted by people whose values and ethics are distorted--and signs that they are disoriented from their own natures as human beings.

We Cannot Give What We Do Not Have

What do you want in your capacity as a leader, or as a person in the workplace?  What do you want in your capacity as a spouse, a parent, a grandparent?  What do you want in your role as a neighbor or citizen?  I write "what do you want?" because your goals as a human being affect how you will or will not arrange your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Because the need for love--and the need to give love--is so fundamental to human nature, I suggest that healthy leaders honestly assess the role of love in your life.

The healthier you are, in terms of healthy love, the healthier your relationships will be with your family, your coworkers, and everyone you meet.  The more love within you, the more love you have to give.  The more love you give, the more love you will receive.  The more that the principle of reciprocity is at work, regarding love, the better you will function, produce, and relate to all in your life.

The reverse is true.  The more unhealthy you are, the less love within you, the less love you have to give to others.  And throughout all your relationships, it will not be love that draws forth people attached to you and loving you, but you will be forcing yourself to coerce, manipulate, and obtain your goals without the aid of that "natural driver," love.

Conclusion

No, there is no conclusion.  There is only a beginning for you, and today is that beginning.  If you want to become a better leader, become more loving.  But this must begin within you, then it will flow out.  If you want to have a better home life, become more loving.  Do not let this depend on others (who you may have scarred yourself!).  This must flow out of you, again and again, regardless of their responses.  Now we are talking about leadership, to begin with you, rather than being a follower, waiting for their lead.

Guess what?  Over time, they will begin to love back.  Because there is that principle of reciprocity at work, in their very nature.  Start nurturing the seeds of love within you today!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Accepting Personal Responsibility--a Fundamental for Leaders

We cannot make progress as leaders if we cannot accept personal responsibility.  What does "being a leader" mean, except that others are willing to follow your example and direction?  Who wants to follow a person who refuses to accept responsibility?

Work and Personal Responsibility

One of my personal traits is that I view my work as a personal extension of myself.  My work actually is part of me. Therefore, I work diligently, give all I have to the task, seek to produce the best, work to correct errors and flaws, and always are trying to improve what I do.  Why?  When I am finished, when the work is done, I want to look back on what I produced and be proud of how I used that percentage of my life used to create those work products.

Of course, when the work goes well, when what I do produces desired outcomes, then I am very pleased and proud.  I say, "I did that."  But when the work goes not very well, or when I find I did something wrong, or there was a flaw throughout the process affecting the outcome, I am not pleased.  It is part of my character that, when the latter happens, I must say, "I am responsible for that mistake.  I wish I could have seen that sooner.  I regret that, and will correct it."

Honesty and Personal Responsibility

Abraham Maslow taught that honesty and seeking facts was one trait of psychologically mature and healthy people.  Based on what we are seeing today--and in fact what we have seen for many decades--is there are many leaders in the United States who are neither psychologically mature nor healthy.  "Blame" and "avoidance" and "excuses" and "self-deception" are quite common among all kinds of leaders.

You cannot be a leader and engage in displacement of blame in areas of life and work you control.  We will become, or probably already are, neurotic, if we allow others to blame us for their areas of life.  On the other hand, until we are honest with ourselves, until we take an honest look at ourselves, until we honestly examine what we are doing in our relationships and workplace, we are destined to the slavery of self-deception, evasion, and escapist rationalizations.

Happiness and Personal Responsibility

You know you want to be a happy person.  You want to be a successful person.  You want to be a person loved by at least your family, if not others.  You will be on the first step to consistent happiness when you are honest with yourself.  This will enable you to see what is true, then begin to change yourself and your work to become better.  This is part of being "successful":  participating honestly in every day of life.  More than that, you will be admired, you will be loved, by other people who WANT to do these same things themselves.

Do not be afraid to look at areas where you have shown you are merely human, and fallible.  Do not be afraid to admit flaws and failures in yourself or your work.  In fact, when you embrace the truth of the facts as YOU have created them, or helped create them in a team environment, there is a great feeling of release and freedom.  None of us want to lie to ourselves, nor to others.  All of us want to be honest, and we truly respect people who speak the truth, who are willing to admit mistakes, in fact, who are willing to say, "I am sorry.  I am responsible for that."

We All Are Liars...At Times

You probably can think of certain times when you have lied to yourself, or to others, regarding your life and work.  Maybe your motivation was fear, self-preservation, avoidance of consequences.  You know how badly you felt.  You willingly put on "handcuffs" of disappointment in yourself.  You felt lessened as a person.  Unfortunately, some people learn early to be false to themselves and others, and this becomes a life habit.

Accepting personal responsibility is key to any change.  Accepting personal responsibility is key to the motivation to change.  We cannot improve, we cannot change, if we lie to ourselves or others.  The organization, Alcholics Anonymous, is partly successful because members must take a first step to admit they are alcoholics.  Without that first step in looking at themselves, in accepting the truth about themselves, they cannot move forward.

Personal Responsibility:  Start Today

Think about today's subject--personal responsibility--and be honest with yourself about your personal history.  That will be your first step in personal responsibility:  willingly and honestly looking at what you have done, or not done, in life and work.  Then, after you have taken that look, make the intentional, willful decision to change, incrementally, to do better, to do your best.

There is a saying, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch."  How about another?  I found this to be of great help when I had writer's block one time.  "Page by page, great books are written."  The point of both sayings--and there are thousands like them--is we must begin with small things to finish greater goals.  Of course, there is so much wisdom in these pithy words my summary just now does NOT exhaust their truths.

In connection with personal responsibility, these sayings are quoted to incite you to begin today.  Be honest.  Take that full and, perhaps, hard look at the facts and truth.  Embrace it, and be one of the few, the strong, who are emotionally mature, who refuse to be liars to themselves or others.  THEN, take one step today, then again tomorrow, in accepting personal responsibility for all you do.

Know what will happen?  Your life and work will "just happen" to get better and better and better.  And you, my friend, will become a happier person, and a more effective leader.  By the way, a final word before I close.  Once you get free--once you get those "handcuffs" off--do not be proud, do not judge others.  Help them get free through encouragement, and your example.

They will admire, follow, and even love that kind of leader:  the person who takes personal responsibility to use valuable time only for good things, not harmful or negative!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Emotions, Ethics and Leadership: Smothering Ourselves to Death

Today, I was riding in a vehicle with my son, Nathaniel, and I was commenting on how much I appreciated his passing along various works by the wonderful Brian Tracy.  I told him how paradoxical listening to Tracy is for me.  On the one hand, I need to hear what he has to say, as a corrective.  On the other hand, I hate hearing how many mistakes I've been making!

Nathaniel's Comment

Nathaniel made an interesting observation that triggered this blog.  He said, "What was that parable by Jesus about the man who 'buried his talents'?"  I immediately exclaimed, "Yes!  That's right!  Only I did not 'bury my talents.'  My emotions buried me!"  He instructed me to write this blog, so here am I, writing to you, reader!

For readers unfamiliar with the New Testament, he was alluding to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14-30.  The talent actually was not an "ability" as we think of today.  It was a large Roman currency during Jesus' time.  The Roman talentum was worth around $30,000 (USD).  According to Jesus' story, a master distributed eight talenta to three slaves.  The first was given roughly $150,000 (5 talenta); the second, $60,000 (2 talenta); and, the third, $30,000 (1 talentum).

The first man invested and doubled his money.  The second did the same.  The third buried his $30,000, to save and not lose it; however, he earned nothing additional.  The owner of the funds, who entrusted all three with his money, was upset with the third man who did nothing but bury his opportunity for profit.

Burying Our Potential:  a Common Curse

Why did I say to Nathaniel NOT that I had buried my talent, but that my emotions had buried me?!

Yes, sometimes leaders bury their potential, and produce very little of value.  Yet sometimes leaders are buried by their emotions.  That is, they become covered up with their lives out of control.  This is involuntary inactivity and production.  They do not take their talents and willfully hide them.  When life gets crazy, they become covered over with emotional chaos and its debilitating effects.   Have not most readers have had at least one event in their lives which so devastated them they were unable to function for a time?

Dig Out Now!

In my case, I had a series of debilitating experiences within three years--wrongful termination, the end of a long-difficult marriage, and the death of my beloved mother.  I was buried by a constant barrage of strong and negative emotions for several years.  And I was debilitated, emotionally wrecked.  Sometimes, death seemed better than life.  There were times when in the darkness I asked God, "Why am I here?  What shall become of me?"  Before one knows it, several years have passed, and still one's life seems fragmented.

Covered over?  Yes, most of us know what it means to be covered over, to be buried by circumstances.  Yet we all need to be reminded of some things, in order to "dig out."

  • Suffering is universal.  Everyone experiences it, though when WE do, we feel isolated.
  • Suffering varies in degree and kind.  Suffering may be universal, but not all suffer equally.
  • Sufferers worldwide survive the worst suffering.  Imagine seeing your family slaughtered before your eyes.  Imagine being unjustly imprisoned for thirty years, then released.  Suffering can be unimaginable.  Respect whatever suffering others endure:  it is their suffering.
  • Suffering is usually survivable.  Suffering does not lead always to death, or destruction.  It has a cycle.
  • Suffering is something we can help reduce and stop when we give a helping hand to someone else suffering.  Some of us can outlive our suffering.  Yet ALL OF US can do something to provide assistance to lessen the suffering of others--from a comforting presence, to an appropriate word, to a cooked meal, to a daily phone call.  This is valuable, and adds value to our own lives.
Breathe Deeply!

Are you weighed down today?  Are your abilities to complete your responsibilities being crushed by things under control?

Take it from a fellow sufferer!  There is hope.  Breathe deeply.  Look around you, carefully.  You will see people who need you.  Extend your hand.  The very act of helping fellow sufferers will, paradoxically, lighten your own load.  Make today count.  Be a leader.  Be ethical.  Dig yourself out of suffering's incapacitation by acts of compassion towards others.  It works.  Love for others in pain returns love and healing back to us!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Honesty With Yourself, Leadership, and Life

What is honesty?  Our U.S. military academies have a simple code of ethics:  "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do."  This reminder of honesty is good, but has been insufficient to stop scandals of cheating on examinations over the years.  Yet, if we do not keep the standard before our eyes, if we do not allow the standard to challenge us, if we allow others' behaviors to inhibit or stop us from applying the standard to ourselves, we personally are destined to have problems.  Ethical standards lift us up, when we connect with them and let them shape us.

Honesty With Ourselves:  An Essential

Honesty with ourselves is essential for moral progress.  Now we can be, and often are, dishonest with other people.  They ask us in the hallway, as they approach with a big smile, "How are YOU today?"  We answer with a reciprocal smile, "Oh, FINE, and YOU?"  They chirp, "GREAT!  See ya later!"  We did not tell them our mother was dying.  We did not tell them our child was arrested.  We did not tell them our head hurts from too much alcohol the night before.  We responded dishonestly because we know the question was dishonest to begin with.  The entire exchange was a social courtesy, actually meaningless.

Now life is filled with small, medium, and large moments of dishonesty.  The question is--regardless of what habits we have adopted from others--"Am I honest with myself, in my deepest thoughts about myself?"
 
If we are not honest with ourselves, in the silence of our mental world, we are immoral people.  The Bible, in both the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament, contains the command, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  To be dishonest with ourselves is to hate ourselves.  If we cannot be honest in looking at ourselves--our strengths and weaknesses, our areas of goodness and harmfulness, where we feel good about ourselves and areas where we need immediate and long-term change, there is little hope for us until we decide to become honest.

Habits Affect Our Capacity for Honesty

Those familiar with the Nazi regime may remember "The Big Lie" philosophy.  It goes like this, "Tell a lie enough times until it becomes the truth."  Repetition conditions our view of reality.  This also applies to honesty, and our personal self-honesty or self-dishonesty.  It is possible, therefore, for us to repeat self-deceptions enough times until we come to believe them.  We see this in criminal and psychiatric cases all the time.  People can, over time, rationalize, compensate, and "fool themselves" that whatever they have thought, said, or done, it is "good, moral, honest, and true."

So habit is a powerful force in being honest with ourselves.  We must practice honesty with ourselves every day, even when it hurts to admit what we see.  Then, as we embrace honesty more and more, honesty becomes our very nature.  Repetition conditions us to become honest with ourselves.

Unfortunately, our habits of association--the people who are are friends or those we choose to spend non-employment time with--reinforce, or detract from, our habits of honesty or dishonesty.  If we "hang out" with people who are liars, or who do bad things and are proud of them, their social influence affects our private, personal journey towards personal honesty.  Our conversations with them are "repetitions of habit" for us.  If they are saying, doing, encouraging, or demanding, that we join them in some unethical or immoral plans or activity, then we either must be honest in criticism and rejection of the matters, or we must cut off associations like these, for our own good.

Be Honest, Starting Today

To be honest with you (!), sometimes being completely honest with ourselves can HURT.  Have you ever thought about a past event, one where you used to blame someone else, then had it occur to you, like a flash of lightning, "I now see how I was responsible!"  This hurts in many ways.  We see our fault.  We see all that time we incorrectly blamed someone else.  We have spent conversations and even actions reflecting our "confident self-justifications."  But when we see something new and different, our question is, "What must I DO WITH THIS?"

To be honest--after such an insight--means accepting responsibility.  It means stopping all habits of self-justification.  It means, likely, going to some people and saying, "I take my part in the blame" or "I now see I was mainly (or even, completely) responsible" and "I ask your forgiveness."

So, Dear Reader, these are only a few thoughts about personal honesty.  There are many more, and all are as important as these first thoughts.  As I close, remember these thoughts.

Whatever our past history of relative honesty or dishonesty, once we make our personal commitment to (1) be honest; (2) reinforce honesty in all areas of our lives; (3) accept truth and consequences whenever they appear, regardless of whether we really like them or not; then, (4) every day we live, we become better people, family members, employers and employees, and citizens.

Let's be honest with ourselves.  Then the rest will become easier and easier!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Ethics of Legacy Thinking

Ethics and Mortality

To remember we are mortal, that we have a certain end of days, affects our ethics.  To know that our lives have a a certain future termination point affects how we live in the present.  This little essay is about legacy thinking and ethics.

The knowledge we will die does not assure we will respond in a healthy or good way to the fact.  A very, very ancient response to mortality is, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!"  There have been many people, perhaps millions, who decided that hedonism, filling one's appetites, whatever they were, is the best answer to death.  For these, the Pleasure Principle is the instrumental method for their interim ethics prior to Death.  There also are some who engage in directly unhealthy, harmful, high-risk behaviors.  These are nihilistic.  They see accelerating the prospect of death to be a kind of exercise of their own egos, an exercise in personal power.  Since they cannot evade death, they beckon it sooner than it might have come.  Most people, however, are neither rank hedonists or nihilists.

Legacy Thinking and Ethics

Most people who think about death want to leave good memories, good effects behind, after they are gone.  They attend funerals, hear eulogies (and the word, eulogy, means "good words"), and consciously or unconsciously consider their own end, and how they will be remembered.  Perhaps after a funeral, we may be a little more inclined, a little less resistant, to doing some good deed.  Someone's death may shake us up a little from our routine schedule and our routine habits of just ignoring opportunities for good.

We all are creating our own legacy every day, for how our families, friends, coworkers, and neighbors will remember us as people.

Consider your own life so far.  Ask yourself, "Which people have affected me the most?  Which ones have embedded themselves in my mind, emotions, and even behaviors, for good or ill?  Why?"  We all have people whose lives affected ours.  Some people lovingly remember their parents and daily live to honor their memories and what they wanted their children to become.  Some people are driven negatively in perpetual reaction against people, some long gone, who harmed them.  And there are some of us who remember some individual--perhaps nameless--who did something very special for us we cannot forget.  We are marked also by complete strangers.

Just as our lives are affected forever by other people, so also we affect others by our lives and how we live them.  We have some relevant questions.  Will you embrace the fact you are constructing your own legacy?  Will you decide to become Commander and Leader of that legacy?  Or will you do what many do and simply allow your daily life to be driven here and there by circumstances?

You are creating a legacy, know it or not, admit it or not.  Now parents with little children realize this.  Children imitate parents, sometimes to our pleasure, at other times to our dismay or alarm.  Yet so many of us live out our daily lives with not much thought as to how we affect others, or the effects of our lives on others.  The truth is, however, we are creating our legacies, day by day, night by night.

Once upon a time, when I was a young man, I wanted to make a great difference in the world through academic scholarship, book publishing, changing how others thought and behaved.  Then, as I studied history, my considerable confidence was eroded by history itself.  I saw how the same problems seem to infest every period of human life.  As the biblical book of Ecclesiastes states, "There is nothing new under the sun."  So, after a period of time, I literally gave up hoping that one little person could do very much to change anything.

Then, ironically, history resurrected my hope in myself.  I realized that the "great and noble" people in history, and even the "despicable and wicked" people in history, had parents and grandparents.  I realized that some of the best and worst characters in history had become so because of single individuals crossing their paths.

There is great irony in the fact that single individuals cannot calculate the value of their lives, yet single individuals can directly or indirectly affect the flow and outcome of history.  That's right.  And that applies to YOU too.  The truth is, You cannot prejudge the value of your life, or how your life may affect someone else.  Your word of encouragement to a stranger may be precisely what is needed at that time.  Your word of condemnation may come at just the wrong moment.  Your helping hand may bring back someone from destruction.  Your isolation and selfishness may allow someone needlessly to slip away.

Create Your Legacy in Love

Now I understand despair and frustration.  I have been there too.  But do not allow negative, harmful feelings to stop you from creating a legacy of love.  We all want to be remembered as loving people.  So let us, you and me, join together in making a pact, a contract if you will, to live daily in love.

One of my favorite scriptures in the New Testament is from the little, tiny epistle of 1 John, the fourth chapter, verses seven to twenty-one.  Let me quote portions of this passage.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love....Those who say, "I love God,"  and hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister who they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
We may believe many things about ourselves.  We are good.  We are bad.  We are average.  We are not that outstanding.  We just are.  But the truth is, every one of us is actively or passively creating our own legacy, day by day, night by night.  And there is this additional truth:  Every One of Us Has the Capacity to Love.

Take a good, honest look at your life.  Answer this question.  "What am I doing today with the life I have been given?"  You are creating a legacy anyway.  Why not create a legacy of love today?  You will not change history; however, your legacy of love must may, may, cross the path of someone else who will change history.  And the truth is, You have no way to calculate the intrinsic worth of whatever you decide to do in love today.

What do you say you and I agree to lock arms and make a firm commitment to be loving?  Why should we not make an intentional decision to use the life we've been given for love, not just for consumption?  In my theology, I do believe God is love.  (Yes, I know there are problems with this statement, when we look at earthquakes, tsunamis, and all freakish natural disasters, those "acts of God," as insurance companies describe them.  But that is another subject for another blog...but only by request.)  So why not use the life given to live in, to live out of, love?  If we are to end this life, why not leave behind thousands and thousands of seeds of love--words, deeds, known and unknown--in the lives of all those we meet and met?  Then, cannot the God of love also recognize those who lived in love, at the Last Day?

This blog entry is my little piece of love for you today.  Behold, a tiny bit of my own legacy, for you!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Ethics of Greed and Benevolence

"Greed is Good": Not!

Bumper stickers proclaimed in the 1980s, "Greed is Good," a kind of populist version of Ayn Rand's rationalistic, capitalistic egoism. In 1987, the movie, Wall Street, distilled the morality that said one should get all you can, while you can, however you can, without calculating costs or effects on others. Gordon Gecko, the film's lead character, made several speeches favoring unrestricted greed as natural, necessary, and good.


It is now 2010. Many Americans followed Gordon Gecko's celluloid-enshrined philosophy for decades. In fact, a movie sequel will appear within this year, again featuring Michael Douglas as a prison-chastened man free on the loose again.  I have no idea of what this movie will teach.  Hopefully better than the last.

Now literally millions of Americans are suffering from harms done by unscrupulous corporations, financial institutions, and corrupt government officials who helped them over the years.  Many have used every opportunity to pursue "Greed is Good." Among the victims are many who formerly worshiped at the Altar of Unrestrained Self-Interest. Now they have become victims to the greed of others and one wonders what these now say. Perhaps, "greed is good but just needs some adjustment?"

What is "greed"? Dictionary definitions include
• excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth
• excessive consumption of or desire for food; gluttony
We look around us today in the United States and see the devastating results of greed. Millions of Americans are without jobs due to jobs shipped overseas for higher profits. Millions have lost homes, investments, savings, pensions, due to unscrupulous banking and financial practices. If we go back into American history beyond our times, we also will see how greed is scattered throughout our history. In fact, this is the history of nations.

Some say greed is natural, human nature. Philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, and geneticists, have suggested, each in their own way, that the desire to consume, or consume more than we need, is completely natural, part of our very being. Augustine discussed how the human will was disordered and turned in on itself, curvatus in se, the essence of sin. Centuries later, Thomas Hobbes described the hoards of self-interested people in society, needing an enlightened monarch standing in the place of God to regulate their behaviors in his Leviathan. Evolutionary theorists make their own case for natural aggression and dominance, for example, in Dawkins's The Selfish Gene.

Sigmund Freud and the Command to Love the Neighbor

I remember, while preparing for a German examination, practice-translating a lengthy passage from Sigmund Freud's Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930). He openly rejected the commandment, "love your neighbor." He said, in essence, we cannot obey the religious command to love the neighbor because we do not know the neighbor. He or she is not family, or a friend. He or she merely is a stranger to us.

The definition of the German word for “neighbor,” naechsten, is closely allied with the Latin word, proximus, which translates the same. These terms mean someone next to, near, or in proximity to us. This is a relationship of time and space. As we all know, just because we move in next door to someone does not mean we will like, or be able to trust, that neighbor. Likewise, just because we work in the cubicle next to someone, this does not establish any other affinity.

Now Freud himself was a neurotic, but a genius. One thing that attracts me to him is his penetrating naturalism. He was an atheist and wrote in penetrating prose, discarding what seemed or was irrational. And so I agree with the naturalism embedded in his point. He is right. We do not know the neighbor and correctly should be careful. We all have life experiences of betrayal, not merely of coworkers but even friends and family.

Yet Freud was a neurotic, a suspicious and very lonely and unhappy man, it seems. So while I can agree with his naturalistic presupposition, my own life itself proves him wrong. How many times have I been helped by strangers? How many times did and does my open personality and quick conversation with strangers remove needless obstacles to real human and humane encounters? Yes, we must be careful but, No, we must not close ourselves off to the potential for what good will and even love can bring to us, or can impel us to give!

Of course, Freud recoiled at Jesus’ command to love the enemy, again quite naturally. He dismissed that command as even worthy of discussion. The enemy, die Feinde, or in Latin, the inimicus (from which we have our adjective, inimical), already has shown ill will, the desire or goal to harm. To be commanded to love such a person was against nature itself, and the instinct for survival. Many today agree with Freud. Having had a few enemies myself and, having a brother murdered on the street, I understand.

If loving the neighbor was neurotic, then loving the enemy perhaps was psychotic, though Freud did not say that. Enemy-love was so far afield from the instinctual and rational it deserved no more rebuke. Freud, like many today, probably would have said the insanity (in the original Latin sense of, insanus, unhealthy-mindedness) of loving enemies was confirmed by Jesus’ example. Jesus was crucified by the union of his enemies, Jew and Gentile. And for this same reason today, not many Christians have much use to practice the command, except to repeat that Jesus said it, the only one who could obey it.

A Little Critique of Freud From the Bible

Freud was not a biblical scholar, but a dilettante or amateur. He did write a book, Moses and Monotheism, but it is more philosophical than textual. In the Hebrew, the word for neighbor actually means, “kinsperson,” or a fellow Jew. There is, then, in the command a religious and, to some extent, racial element as to the obligation to love. There is no command to love the goyim, the non-Jews of the world. We can see positive relationships in the Hebrew Bible between Jews and non-Jews, for example, the Book of Ruth. Nevertheless, in the truly biblical sense and in the biblical command, the obligation to love is sectarian or even racial.

Jesus, when he said the Torah hung on the two commands, to love God and neighbor, actually spoke these words knowing the latter command meant a fellow Jew. But in his own life and dealings with non-Jews—the Syro-Phonecian woman, the Centurian, the Gadarene demoniac, the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, and lepers who were ritually unclean, as a few examples—Jesus exhibited love for them all. So while he was a Jew faithful to the Torah, he extended the applications of religious love to all he met. Even his harsh words to fellow Jews (“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”) should be taken as words issued with an intention to reform.

Practicing and observant Jews obey the command to love their Jewish kin. There are many Jewish philanthropists who go further, having benevolence towards their communities, states, and the nations in which they live. Just as Jesus did, their good will extends far beyond the borders of sectarian faith, but to all God’s children and even creation itself.

The Ethics of Benevolence

The word, benevolence, is a transliteration of the Latin word, benevolentia, literally meaning a "good will" towards others. Whereas greed is based in self-love and taking, true benevolence is based on willing good for other persons.

There is such a thing as false benevolence. A billionaire can give millions of dollars for a "benevolent work," but the motive may be self-serving. Perhaps the giver has accumulated vast wealth through profiting from harming or even killing millions, yet wants to manipulate public opinion. This has happened. The victims and victims' families know the truth. This is pseudo-benevolence for private satisfaction.

Benevolence, unlike greed, is not "curved in on itself" but rather aimed outward to others in love. Benevolence is omni-directional, always aimed towards other people, other living things, even the biosphere itself. Good will can be directed as specific as to an ant or as broadly as to the cosmos itself.

I remember reading Albert Schweitzer’s rich little book, Out of My Life and Thought, where he said, as a boy, he even recoiled from impaling worms on hooks for fishing bait. He said, even a worm feels the steel go through its body. I, too, have that memory. But the encouragement of other fishermen to ignore that feeling for utilitarian purposes of catching a fish (which engorges what will horribly hurt when removed) also is part of that memory. “Have no benevolence either for the worm or fish. Push through the hook, anesthetize your will, then enjoy the catch for supper.”

While some today have consciences so hardened they can only mock what seems to them an absurd ideal, I love the universal benevolence in Schweitzer’s doctrine, Reverence for Life. He impresses and endears me in so many ways. Though he had three doctorates and wrote such masterworks as his Philosophy of Civilization, that brilliant intellect was tender and gentle towards the smallest creatures. He lived benevolence and inspired his time, though now younger generations never learned his name in exchange for the most superficial, egocentric, hedonistic icons called “stars” in our culture.

Yes, we have enough steely wills today. We have enough wills driven by Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” We have enough consciences so hard and dead they not only destroy animals and the ecosphere with impunity, they will not intervene if a murder or rape is happening before their very eyes. They do not want “to get involved.”

Benevolence Brings Happiness, Not Greed

Have we not had enough greed yet? Is the United States not ruined enough? Are there not enough nations in the world where only a few gobble up all the resources and labor? Why would we want more greed? Surely greed has been proven to be a neurotic obsession that easily leads to a psychosis-aggression against our own species!

We are born into love. We are born to love back. From our mother’s breast to our parents’ loving arms, good will is found in our earliest experience. We never are truly happy until we live and move and breathe in loving and being loved. Neurosis comes, for people like Freud, when our original instinctual needs for love are thwarted and twisted by unhealthy childhood experiences. Yet even those can be undone, with great success.

If greed is our goal, there are built-in limits. We must use our days and nights to achieve things we may never grasp. There is no certainty in greed, only the constant and expanding aspiration for accumulation and control. The more we acquire, the more our warped grasping wants to acquire. And because greed actually is against our own deepest nature, with all we may obtain, that deeper hollow inside—where Love wants to dwell—never is filled. We are too busy planning, doing, taking, buying, selling, to be our true selves.

But with benevolence, there are no limits at all. We allow our essential human nature to flow naturally and for its power to extend from within us to everything and every person we meet. When we arise in the morning to lying down at night, benevolence, the attitude and expectation of willing good, is in our complete control. Moreover, because benevolence is a natural human propensity, every person as the capacity and opportunity to be natural and let this most basic nature take its course.

Why are young children or grandchildren such great pleasures? They are filled with good will, positive curiosity, trust, enthusiasm, learning, excitement, wonder. Only the children of abuse, war, abject poverty, have their natural good will extinguished. Yet even children taught to take up guns, as in some African warring groups, if given a chance to be children, will be as they are able. For those who are skeptical about benevolence or its possibilities, just look at a normal child who still is close to his or her parents’ loving care. You must be convinced this is how you were, or how you want to be again. Benevolence is your nature.

The grand fact about benevolence is it universally is available to every person, regardless of material possessions, regardless of education, regardless of intellectual or other endowments.

Benevolence has no favored linguistic form. In every language and dialect, rudimentary or highly inflected, benevolence has equal power and potentialities. Even the person with a physical or mental disability, limited in some ways, can become a king or queen in the realm of benevolence. And many do, outstripping those called “normal” precisely because their “limitations” open their hearts to what instinctively they know best—to will good and to love. Benevolence abides no more in any geographical location, ethnic group, or nation, than in any other. Why? Because we all are of the same species, and our earliest postnatal love is universally known by us all.

Benevolence, however, can be impeded, suffer, and be deformed by economic systems and economic realities. Enlightened capitalism can be a great channel for benevolence, as wealth finds many ways to will good to the neighbor and the stranger. Yet amoral capitalism, which fuels so much of the greed today, places money and acquisition as the do-all and end-all for every living breath. Yet even here, benevolence is vindicated again.

In the famous story, A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge devoted his life to gain, not giving. The reason this story is so beloved is its simple critique of greed, and its profound recommendation for benevolence. Our American society has many Scrooges now, all unhappy after they achieve their goals, all wondering why their hunger is never satiated, yet all candidates for conversion back to their true nature: benevolent human beings.

How many true stories are there in cultures around the world where a poor person invited a rich person into their humble home, hovel, or tent, then gave freely whatever they had for food and drink? Why and with what power did they do this? Benevolence. They know hunger and thirst. Yet when they met another person who was hungry and thirsty, they did not ask, "Does this person favor me?," or "How can I benefit from this person?," or "Do I know or owe this person?" They see the person in need as one like themselves. They are connected to the person in need, and so still obey what Freud rejected: "love your neighbor as yourself."

The greedy person sees other human beings as means to an end: profit, property, possessions. The benevolent person sees other human beings as in connection with themselves. We often look at the history of genocides and ask, "How could the killers kill with such impunity men, women, children?" In every case, the killers have lost the understanding, based in fact, that they share the very same genome, the very same humanness as their victims.

The benevolent person has not lost that awareness and identification. And, of course, the truly wonderful thing about benevolence is there is no limit to its capacity other than our imaginations! Even the poor person who has no food or drink left can put his or her arm around the stranger as they suffer deprivation together. And there remains also the quiet word of encouragement, "I am with you. We will endure this together."

Live in Benevolence, Not Greed

Let us learn from the destruction of our nation the high costs and reality of what greed is and produces. Are these millions of lessons not enough for us? Let us turn from the poisoned spirit of greed, curved in on itself, to the sweet and easy fruits of hearts, minds, speech, and deeds of benevolence. You have the power within you, so live in love! It is so much better, so unlimited, so satisfying. Amen!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Integrity in Leadership and Life

What does "integrity" mean to you? Find a reliable and preferably large dictionary and read the full definition.  Read slowly.  Absorb each listed application of meaning.  I personally love the Oxford English Dictionary, but this can be too academic, as well as difficult to find.  Then look through the Internet to see what is said about "integrity" there and compare what you see.

Integrity is a very popular concept today.  I do not hear its appearance in common conversation.  I do not read the word much in written articles.  If it is used, it seems mostly to be useful for citing its absence, reflected by some piece of news about someone's behaviors.  "He has no integrity" or something like that seems most common.

If you are an engineer or builder, the word "integrity" carries a sense of strength, coherence, durability.  Perhaps this is the reason the word seems out of fashion today when it comes to personal character.  Perhaps too many people do not want to reflect much on how strong their character is, how their values cohere, or what durable they are apt to be under pressure.  They are willing to use "integrity" in a negative context--as a measuring rod for something someone does not have--but not many seem interested in using this word as a positive incentive for personal growth.

When I was a boy, a teen, I am unsure of how much this word was in my vocabulary or in my mental furniture.  I do know that one of the elements of what I understand integrity to be, truthfulness, was very important to me.  My father who, thank God, still is alive and both mentally and physically healthy used to drive home the importance of being truthful.  So I grew up hearing not only this lesson, but seeing it lived out in two honest and truthful parents.

It seems to me that integrity requires fundamental truthfulness to exist and grow in us.  I once heard an old preacher, named Hank Eason, tell me, "As long as you are green, you are growing, but when you get ripe, you get rotten."  He was talking about humility, openness to change, willingness to learn.  As as long as those things were present, he implied, there was hope for continued growth in all areas of life:  thinking, emoting, behaving, believing.  But his funny saying implied that a person is in real peril when he or she believes he has "arrived" and has not much, or nothing, to learn from other people.  That person essentially has shut himself or herself off from the prospect of correction, and the pleasures of learning how to become a better person.

In my life and, in my historical studies, I have seen persons who have what I might call "perverse integrity."  There is a coherence, a consistency, in what they believe, think, emote, and do.  They have a "system" or "world view" out of which they act.  When they get up in the morning, they do not turn on the television or read the paper to "figure out who they are."  They know who they are.  Yet to have an assured, clear, comprehensive view of oneself and one's place in the world does NOT mean that view is correct.  You can have a completely coherent, consistent, integrated view of identify, life, and the world, but be wrong and be harmful to others.

I was reading this morning Elie Wiesel's famous little book, Night.  For those readers who do not know him, this small but powerful text narrates in short but traumatic prose how he, as a young Hungarian Jew, his family, and his community, lived and died under Nazi oppression, deportation, and terror.  As I write about "integrity," I think of the millions of highly intelligent Germans who were completely persuaded that what they were doing was right, good, and necessary.  Reader, if you are familiar with world history, if you are familiar with some other nation's history, can you recite your own version of a genocidal group deeply convinced of their own rightness?

One of the problems with truthfulness is that it always returns home to point its bony, pointed finger at us.  So when I talk about illustrations of how "integrity can be perverse," let me cite briefly my own nation, the United States.  My European ancestors also oppressed, deported, terrorized, and exterminated millions of Native Americans as "subhuman savages and barbarians."  From blankets infected with smallpox, to rum, to bullets, to forced marches, to destruction of food sources, to rigged laws, treaties, and judgments in courts of law, the histories of what happened are clear.

So both individuals and groups can be convinced they have "integrity" yet be completely wrong.  And, as I already have said, there are apparently many individuals who do not seem much to care about thinking on what personal integrity might mean.  I know I wish I heard many more voices around me talking about the issue of integrity, and calling me to reflect on my own integrity.

Therefore, I write today about integrity to you, Reader.  I ask you to look in the mirror.  I ask you to think about yourself and your place in the world.  Surely, surely, you are not one of those who have become so "ripe you have become rotten."  Surely you are one of those who understand that you are like me.  You are one of the Mistake-Makers.  You are one who must learn from your errors.  You are one with my calling, that is, the calling of honesty and truthfulness in character.

For you see, so long as we can be honest with ourselves, so long as we push away what the crowd embraces, so long as we recognize that true integrity must be grounded in the truth, in the purgation and illumination of seeing ourselves as we really are, then we can become what we might become as better persons.

I hope this little essay on integrity has offered something good to you.  I have tried, within the confines of the space I have to write today, to offer you something from my heart and mind, as seeds for something good to come forth within you.  Let us have more integrity today, wherever we live, move, and have our being, and may it not be grounded in common illusions or delusions, but in the truth.  Let us seek that truth first within ourselves, not as we prefer it or wish it to be, but honestly.  And then we will be green and growing!  God help us to that end.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010