We offered a series about ethics recently and all of that may have come across as a little preachy. Never our intention to preach on the blahg (well, usually not 😉 ). While we do hope that all of you do the right thing in your day to day lives, sometimes it’s hard to put well-meaning ideas into practice.
Along those lines, we came across this fascinating work by researchers at UNC Kenan-Flagler and Kellogg who are testing how people modify their behavior in the face of evidence of someone else’s morality. (HBR article) The researchers found that if you display a religious symbol at your desk (a Buddha statue or a Christian cross, for example) or if your email signature block has an ethically-leaning tagline, then your peers are less likely to ask you to do something morally ambiguous.
From a WaPo article covering the study :
“One of my students raised his hand and said ‘all this is good, but if my boss asks me to do something unethical, it’s very hard to say no,’ ” [the researcher] recalls. It made her wonder if a more bottoms-up solution to resolving ethical problems could help, rather than just trying to get leaders to act more principled themselves. “Is there some way to pre-empt those kinds of unethical questions to begin with?” she thought. [emphasis added]
True true. The finding that a signal to the world that you subscribe to a particular religious tradition or philosophy can cause others to treat you differently is certainly interesting. We’re not necessarily suggesting that all of you go out and buy a statue to place on your desk. There was nothing in this study about how one person’s showing of religion could affect others who are uncomfortable with such things or whether it could actually instigate bias or discrimination in other ways. The authors also acknowledge that displaying a religious symbol does not automatically mean that someone is ethical. However, all of it certainly interesting. Maybe this gives you an idea where you can use that Gandhi quote that you’ve been itching to include at the start of your essay.
Or you can just deal with it the way this freshman at Princeton has dealt with it: By publicly asking people to stop thieving each other’s stuff.
From that piece: “[I]t is difficult to convince a thief to stop with a few quick words.”
Yeah, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
In case you’re interested: A few unrelated articles on conflict of interest in different fields:
- Johns Hopkins launches a new scientific training program with a pharmaceutical company (WaPo) – not only is money changing hands but the biotech firm is actively involved in the curriculum (look for this model to be adopted by bschools in the future); also, a new study shows that doctors who receive even small gifts like a meal paid for by a pharma co are more likely to prescribe brand-name drugs over generics (The Atlantic)
- A discussion of fiduciary rules in managing other people’s money (WaPo) – opinion piece stating that investment advisors should strive to “do no harm” just like doctors