September 2010 Archive


September 27, 2010

Integrity & Art

In yesterday’s New York Times, Week in Review section featured an interesting article entitled: Life, In The Way of Art by Randy Kennedy. The article tells the story of a famous civil rights photographer, Ernest C. Withers whose great works of art have been exposed in a number of museums and published in numerous books. What was not known until now is that Mr. Withers had been a paid informant for the FBI and that he has spied on the leaders of the civil rights movement for a number of years. This revelation, published this month by Commercial Appeal in Memphis after a two-year investigation was a shock to his friends and admirers. Mr. Kennedy asks the interesting question of whether this revelation casts a shadow on his art anymore then on Picasso’s art because of his deep misogyny, or T.S. Eliot poems because of his perceived (by some) anti-Semitism. Randy says: “It is always treading on dangerous ground to try to locate the value of the work in the life of the artist or in his (or her) sense of morality.”

I, personally have a great difficulty in trying to distinguish a person’s accomplishment from his or her behavior. What if Adolf Hitler had been a great composer? Would I be able to listen and enjoy his music? Could you appreciate a beautiful photo of a child if you knew that the photographer was a child molester?

It is for me a matter of integrity and character. The etymology of the word integrity comes from the Latin adjective integer which means whole, complete, one. We are one person however complex, flawed and prone to making errors. I believe we can’t truly live separate lives.

Ernest C. Withers died in 2007 and we may never know his motivation and intent in spying for the FBI. We cannot judge him but we may condemn his actions.

One can recognize and even appreciate the artistic or other accomplishments of a person but in order for us to respect that person, we need to share at least some of that person’s values and not disapprove of his or her behavior.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

“Character is higher than intellect.”

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September 13, 2010

Mark Hurd-Part Two

Mark Hurd was named last week co-President at Oracle, a competitor to Hewlet Packard from which he had been “forced” to resign.

My first reaction was “good for him and for Oracle.” I can imagine that the Board of HP has second thoughts about the decision to let him go.

HP is suing Mark Hurd to stop him from taking the job at Oracle. The suit claims that Hurd, by accepting to position at Oracle will violate the confidentiality agreement he signed in return for the $40 M + of his severance package. HP is afraid that Mark will divulge some HP proprietary information.

Loyalty is a very important value.

John Ladd, professor of Philosophy at Brown Universtiy wrote in the Macmillan Encyclopaedia of Philosophy in 1967 that the notion of loyalty is “an essential ingredient in any civilized and humane system of morals”.

That is true in the business world as well. Josiah Royce, the American Philospher wrote in The Philosophy of Loyalty that “in the commercial world, honesty in business is a service, not merely and not mainly to the others who are parties to the single transaction in which at any one time this faithfulness is shown. The single act of business fidelity is an act of confidence of man in man upon which the whole fabric of business rests.”

We are expected to be loyal to our family, friends and country. We are also expected to be loyal to our current employer.

However because of the reality of the job marketplace we often are required to shift our loyalties.

Such shifting of loyalty happens all the time in many different professions. Prosecutors become criminal defense attorneys, IRS officials become tax advisors, and Congressmen become lobbyists. In the PR industry, executives often represent clients that are competitor of previous clients or move to competitor agencies.

Can we shift loyalty and still remain ethical?

I think you can but there are at least three moral (and maybe legal) obligations to fulfill.

  1. One should not breach past confidence from the previous employer to the advantage of the new employer
  2. One should never malign previous employers.
  3. One should honor any past commitments that are still applicable.

The person we are ultimately accountable to is our self. We owe it to ourselves, wherever we are employed to keep our values, integrity and honesty wherever we are ant in whatever we say and do.

As the Psalmist David once wrote:

“Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you: bind them around the your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

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