The current media hysteria over the News of the World, politicians and the Murdoch empire seems to crystallise around the subjects of morality and power. What are politicians prepared to do to get and stay elected? What are business people prepared to do to achieve power and success? These issues and the stories filling our media at present, voyeuristic as they are, bring some unpleasant memories flooding back.
Now, if I’m brutally honest, I’m probably not the whitest soul on this earth but I rate my past transgressions as relatively minor and, as far as I know, ones that didn’t harm others. In fact I like to think that I haven’t knowingly ever achieved something by consciously harming another (and note that I use these words not as a lawyer turned politician but as a layman). Yes, I’ve known politicians, famous sporting heroes and ‘celebrities’ but perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently interested enough in them to create any leverage for myself. The tale I’m about to relate demonstrates (to me) the lengths a person will go to in pursuit of their own ends.
Many years back I lost my first wife after a long and tragic illness that caused her great suffering and my family enormous grief. This loss changed me forever in so many ways and so, some years later when I heard a colleague’s wife was suffering from the same cruel disease, I felt spontaneously driven to write to him. I let him know of my concern for them both and offered an understanding ear if he ever felt the need to talk. Now at the time I was working for a major international corporation and my colleague (let’s call him Marcus) was both older and more senior than me. Very shortly afterwards, I got a call from Marcus’s secretary to fix a date for us to have dinner on his forthcoming visit to theUK.
We talked late into the night while Marcus poured out his soul to me and thanked me for my concern for them both. It wasn’t long after that I heard the sad news that his wife had finally passed away. I wrote again but it was some time before we met as I was running theUK operation while Marcus was one of the senior team based in our European headquarters. A year or so later, I again received a call from Marcus’s secretary inviting me for dinner on his next visit. Business concluded on the day of his visit, I drove Marcus to his hotel. As the sun was shining brightly on that fine summer evening, we decided to take a walk along the river that ran by the country hotel I had chosen. Once more Marcus talked; he talked of the pain of his wife’s suffering and death; he talked of the slow repair of his inner self and a returning belief in the joys of living. And then he shared with me his love for a new woman in his life, how they met, what she meant to him and how they would spend their life together. I was pleased for him.
A year or so later I moved to our European headquarters in a senior staff role, one of the same team as Marcus and reporting directly to our president. A week or so after I arrived, I was sitting in my office late one evening mulling over the situation I had encountered and, feeling more than a little lost; I was missing my old team and loyal support group. Suddenly, my door burst open and Marcus charged in; with no pleasantries or even common courtesies, he launched into a vitriolic attack on me, my function and my new team. Equally abruptly, he left and never again exchanged a friendly word with me. I was mystified at the time because the substance of the attack was laughable and demonstrated a gross lack of understanding of the subject at issue.
Getting immersed into my new role over the new few months, I was determined to analyse the underlying causes of the problem I had been given as a priority to solve in my new role. The biggest assistance I received was, strangely enough, from the members of a team that reported to Marcus; they were bright, they were helpful and they were very frustrated that the extremely expensive IT investment in the system they ran was being ignored. As I learnt more of the workings of the European operation it became clear that, under the bonus system that prevailed at the time for senior executives, Marcus would be gaining indirectly from the problems that existed (both financially and reputationally). Putting right the causes of the problem I identified admittedly would have taken much effort and could have affected Marcus adversely in the short term but would have had an enormously beneficial financial effect upon the entire business. On the morning of the presentation of my findings to the entire European management group, Marcus decided (or conspired) to play golf with our president thereby ensuring they both missed my presentation. The next day he issued an edict to his team that they were not to cooperate with me in any way.
One man’s greed and ego had damaged an entire business; I could live with the effects upon me (as it led to my career taking a very positive turn as I shortly thereafter left corporate life) but I have often reflected how one man could be so duplicitous. He could have worked with me and even taken the credit for the solution but no, he had to fight in the dirtiest manner to preserve the short-term status quo. Businesses (and democracies) allow people in positions of power to exercise the most dubious ethics and morality and permit them to flourish. Do you think this is correct? Have you encountered problems such as these?
If you would like to find where you stand on a broad range of moral issues we face in our modern life, go to http://www.moralcompass.org/