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The integrity lesson in the Goldman Sachs fiasco

April 27, 2010

What am I doing writing about a financial institution meltdown?  Isn’t this supposed to be about education (well, ok, not everything I write about has to do with education)?

There’s a lesson to be learned in this. This morning, I was getting ready for “work” after having already completed an early morning interview with WPHM’s Paul Miller on the NYC Samaritan who was ignored as he was dying by dozens of passers-by (I still have to write about THAT horror!).  Anyway, I was watching the Today Show and Senator Claire McCaskill was commenting on the Goldman Sachs hearings scheduled to start today.

I was struck by something the Senator had to say — she commened about the lack of “old-fashioned right and wrong” that contributed to this whole mess.  Yes, Senator McCaskill — you’re right.  And what’s the result: well, we’re looking at enacting new legislation, new rules, new laws because we have to outwardly control that which is not properly inwardly driven.

As I’ve said before, it’s an example of what I call “The New Integrity:” being very, VERY sorry when you’ve been caught doing wrong, rather than the “traditional” version which is supposed to be what keeps us from doing wrong in the first place.

I find there’s a parallel, too, to what is going on in the aftermath of bullying — we’re looking at putting in place tougher laws that outline the consequences for poor behavior. As if that’s going to miraculously fix it.

Look, I’m hardly going to sit here and insuinuate that we have left behind some Golden Age of Ethics and Integrity in business. There were always people who looked for loopholes in processes that they could exploit for personal gain. But I think we have an opportunity to learn some vital lessons here — perhaps move INTO a more ethical time period where we can rely again on a handshake and a person’s word is predominantly their bond.

As I shared with a group of Junior High students the other day, a society in which everyone is only looking out for #1 isn’t a society — it’s anarchy.  And watching the news sometimes, I truly feel we’re headed in that direction.  But I see the silver lining in the dark clouds and hope that we may see these “unrelated” incidents as part of the bigger picture and take steps now to prevent our communities from imploding. We have to begin to practice what we preach — don’t just sit there and “tsk, tsk” about the bad boys (and/or girls) at Goldman Sachs…look at what you are doing, today and every day to keep your own house in order. And insist that those people you do business with operate similarly. 

We have a choice; we’re not lemmings.  Insist on a better way, operate with the expectation that we deserve it and we’re going to demand it, and let’s see how many others we can align to the “new” civility.

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