STUDENTS do not emerge from the ethics courses they take with a greater ability to distinguish between right and wrong, says the Wall Street Journal columnist W. McGurn who was also the speechwriter of former US president, George W. Bush.
Are business schools the culprit?
Students bring into the values, ideologies, and beliefs that were dominantly formed by a materialistic world view. Although a host of interpersonal and social problems can be attributed to this view, students have been indoctrinated into it since childhood. This is reinforced through languages that emanate from it. Students filter, interpret, and respond to situations, events, and actions according to this mindset.
“Econophonic” language uses money to dictate and justify all actions. A powerful and dominating language, it effectively silences morality and responsibility if they stand in the way of “profit” and “bottom line”. On the other hand, “potensiphonic” language emphasizes power and supremacy. Research shows that power, whether actual or perceived, transforms one’s thinking that influences his moral choices. Through this language, power can and must be used to protect self-interests. Intimidation and the use of violent means are appropriate.
These metaphors are common in business-speak. CSR activities are assessed if they improve the bottom line. Good behavior is encouraged because it “pays”. Executives talk about “killing” or “crushing” their competitor. Companies have threatened critical customers with lawsuits. These support mindsets that one, issues of right and wrong can be monetized, and two, violence can be justified as long it protect self-interests.
Popular media reinforces this mindset. Those who are praised are often the moneyed and the powerful. Those who are not are usually ignored, or ridiculed. In the materialistic culture, individuals exhibiting a caring, helping heart are perceived as a “pushover”, “softie”, or “gullible”.
Compassion is a virtue. Yet, in many cases, most of society thinks it is unwarranted because the supposed objects of compassion lack virtue or intelligence. They are often perceived as indolent and lazy. They are not self-reliant. Most believe that they should not be helped so they can learn to help themselves.
In organizations, those who chose to be ethical are always suspects. They pose a threat to material goals and should be watched, controlled, or castigated. The source of concern is not their virtue, but the danger it may pose to material concerns. These may be the organization’s bottom line or the upward mobility of the members. Moreover, it creates a sharp contrast to the positive self-image of those engaged in less morally desirable activities.
Students bring with them the thinking that money and power outcomes are supreme and that good behavior is less important.
In a business school, students are introduced to tools. These, they are told, are effective in arriving at decisions that can increase bottom line. Then there is emphasis on leadership. This, they are led to believe, can enable them to herd people to achieve personal and organizational goals. Sadly, these only result in validating and re-reinforcing their original mindsets.
Students come to class with baggage. We cannot change the cards we are dealt. So how do we play the hand?
Real Carpio So lectures on strategy and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of Ramon del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives can be accessed at realwalksonwater.wordpress.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.