Sunday, September 13, 2020



When I was teaching business communications at Webster University in Geneva, I did one lecture on ethics to about 20 students from many different countries.

"You'll never succeed if you are ethical," a Russian girl said. Her Russian friend agreed with me.

The ensuing discussion was far more interesting than my prepared lecture. Most of my students felt the world would be better if everyone was ethical, but that was impossible. 

It left me with a terrible feeling of sadness. That was in the late 1990s.

I was raised by a strict New England Yankee grandmother and an almost as strict mother on right and wrong. You tell the truth (that was learned after I lied about putting the kitten in the refrigerator. They had found and other than be chilly for a short time, she went on to a long life).

  • You pay full price at the movie even if you look like you're under 12.
  • You don't cheat on tests.
  • You put yourself in other's shoes.
  • In golf, you play the ball where it lies.
  • You don't pick on someone weaker than yourself
  • And thousands of more do-what's-right

That not everyone followed these rules I learned at 16 when I was cub reporter for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune covering town politics. And when I met my first Palestinian after the 1967 war, I heard a hidden side of life.   

My mother was in charge of rental events for the Meadowbrook Golf Club where we were members. Caterers, florists, bands for the weddings she had booked in all offered her kick backs. She refused them all.

The more I read, the more I discovered much of what I was taught was either a lie or only a small part of the story. I learned symbols were more important than reality because the reality was hidden. 

Part of me wants the world to be good and beautiful: flowered gardens, happy families, police who do not shoot people in the back, people who do not shoot police, wars that are only to protect the U.S. not to feed the arms manufacturers, people who earn enough to have those flowered gardens, politeness, builders who follow safety laws, politicians who vote for the people not their corporate sponsors, etc.

I am not naive enough to expect that. I fear my students were right.


1 comment:

Paul Wilke said...

So much of our ethics are handed down to us. High-trust societies have citizens who police themselves. I remember living in Berlin a few years ago. People would wait at the pedestrian crosswalk until it turned green, no matter whether any cars were coming or not. That was the rule and people followed it. I did too after getting chewed out a few times by some Germans. When I lived in Ukraine and Brazil, on the other hand, if you were not cheating to get ahead, you were a naive chump. Your Russian students echoed that mindset, and why wouldn't they? Russia's corrupt to the bone, and that ultimately dictates someone's ethics. Really, much of the world is that way. I try and remember that before I get to judgy.