February 2007 Archive
February 5, 2007
We all make mistakes in words and deeds. What we do next is crucial. We will often be judged and remembered, not so much by our mistake but rather by our reaction to them.
We should first admit and even owned our errors. A French proverb says: An Error confessed is half forgiven.
Offering an apology may be the right thing to do. Sometimes an apology is not warranted but just politically expedient. In such apologies, the absence of sincerity is evident.
I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
That comment created an instant uproar both in the US and abroad. I heard on Radio France International.
The New York Times reports that Senator Biden admitted he had been “quoted accurately” and that he had call Senator Obama to express regrets that “his remarks had been taken out of context.”
The following day, Senator Biden appeared on The Daily Show and treated his remarks very lightly and jokingly and said that he was not very articulate.
I do not think that Senator Biden’s reaction qualifies for a true and honest apology.
A true apology is accompanied by remorse.
Michael Richard’s grief about his racial outburst at the Comedy Club was palpable when he appeared on the David Letterman show. You could truly feel his pain and remorse.
Finally we should not add an excuse to our apologies, such as “I was caught off guard” or “I was tired.” That is a mistake. An excuse to an apology can nullify the apology. “I was caught of guard” is really saying that I was unable to hide my true feelings.
Some years ago Billy Graham, made an apology to the Jewish Community about some negative comments he made about Jews to President Nixon more than 30 years ago. The tapes of his conversation with the President had been released by the National Archives. He offered the following public apology:
“I can not imagine what caused me to make those comments, which I totally repudiate, for whatever reasons, I was wrong for not disagreeing with the President and I sincerely apologies to anyone I have offended.”
His apology was accepted by the ADL.
I think he could have gone a step further. He could have said:
“I really do not understand how I could possibly have made such a comment. I do not believe that I was or that I am anti-Semitic but I need to search my own soul to make sure.
Anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice can hide deep in our psyche and none of us is immune to its potential corruption.
King David, (my favorite poet) gives us the perfect model of a humble attitude that we should have when we apologize for such offenses.
He wrote: Search me O God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any offensive way in me.”
February 12, 2007
Both issues are key in developing and maintaining trust.
But how transparent should we be or even want to be?
We all cherish and are entitled to our privacy. We have a right, even a duty to protect our personal interests. We also have the obligation to protect our employer’s confidential information. Yet we often also have some obligations to be transparent.
When should we disclose and when should we be discreet? Making such a decision can be complex.
Answering the following questions could be helpful.
- Do we have the right to disclose? Do we own the information or does it belong to someone else? Personally, I never had a problem keeping a secret because information that is given to me in confidence does not belong to me. If I dispose of it, I am disposing of something that is not mine. Disposing of something that is not yours is a form of theft.
- Is the recipient of the information I am considering disclosing entitled to the information? The press works on the premise that the public has the right to know. Is it always true?
- By disclosing or not disclosing, are we being deceptive? In our attempt to protect our interest we should avoid using deception. Deception intentionally leads someone to believe something that is not true and it is done most often to obtain personal or corporate gains.
- Are we leading others to take action that, if given the facts, they would not take?
- Would such action be detrimental to their well-being?
In ethics, one of the worse case scenarios is NOT to ask questions. Asking questions does not mean of course that we will always have the “right” answer. We may, with 20/20 hindsight, discover that we took the wrong course but at least we have the comfort of knowing that we were thoughtful and considered the ethical dimension of our decisions.
As Solomon Ibn Gabriol said:
A wise man's question contains half the answer.
February 20, 2007
A few years ago, we had to make a decision whether to let go one of our executives who had just settled with the SEC for insider’s training. The actions had occurred prior to him joining our firm. While a few of us thought this was the right approach, David Finn refused to let him go asking all of us: “What about the concept of forgiveness?”
The concept of forgiveness is rarely considered in the business context. Forgiveness is often relegated to religion and psychology.
However forgiveness is practice at a national level. Nations forgive nations after war. Both Germany and Japan have been forgiven for their horrendous war crimes during WWII. Rich nations forgive poor nations when they cancel their debts.
Forgiveness and reconciliation has occurred among fractural groups such as the Tutsis and Hutus, and the white and black populations of South Africa.
In our political system, the Executive branch, the President or the Governor, can grant a pardon. Pardons are granted when individuals have demonstrated that they have fulfilled their debt to society. Presidential pardons can sometimes be difficult to understand. President Ford pardoned President Nixon after the Watergate scandal. It cost him political support and possibly the election. President Clinton pardoned fugitive billionaire Marc Rich who was convicted of tax evasion and making illegal oil deals with Iran during the hostage crisis. . However both President Clinton and President George W. Bush refused to pardon Jonathan Pollard who was convicted more than 20 years ago of divulging national secrets to an ally (Israel) about a common enemy (Iraq!)
The Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had collaborated with the Polish Communist secret police more than 20 years ago. Should he not have been forgiven?
In our culture, we believe that an individual is entitled to a “second chance.” An employee is rarely let go without a warning or probation. The concept of forgiveness is also demonstrated in our bankruptcy laws giving the individual or business a second chance.
Are there some criteria or minimum requirements necessary to obtain forgiveness? I can think of three.
- Recognition of errors. We should admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our actions.
- Remorse: We should not only “show remorse” but also actually be remorseful.
- Reparation: We should be willing to compensate, if possible, the person or persons who were negatively impacted by our actions.
Being given a second chance can create very strong loyalty. Forgiveness is a very powerful concept that we should consider more often in the business world. As Hannah Arendt once said:
“Forgiveness is key to action and freedom.”
February 26, 2007
More than 4.5 millions spectators watched the Oscars last night. Movies can be extraordinary vehicle to convey values.
Many social issues have been addressed by directors and producers through the years and have been inspiring. Issues such as anti-Semitism, the death penalty, and racism.
Here is my short “Oscar” list:
Gentleman’s Agreement, (1947) by Elia Kazan, with Gregory Peck exposed anti-Semitism in the South in which a reporter, pretends to be Jewish to write a story on anti-Semitism. He discovers, in a very personal way what is means to be discriminated against.
Nous sommes tous des Assassins (1952) (Are we all murderers?) by Andre Cayatte with Mouloudji was a strong condemnation of the death penalty. Many years later Susan Sarandon portrayed a compelling portrait of Sister Prejean in Dead man Walking who became a friend of a death row inmate. The movie explores the morals of Capital Punishment.
In the Heat of the Night (1967) by Norman Jewison with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger portrayed racism in the South. Mississippi Burning (1988) by Alan Parker with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe was another portrait of racism and intolerance and the two men who risked their lives for justice.
In the 80s, French-Polish Director Krysztof Kieslowski released The Decalogue, a series of 10 short movies each based on one of the 10 Commandments.
The movie reflects on the meaning and the value of the Commandments through the lives of fictional characters.
Robert Redford the first inaugural chairman of the Sundance Film Festival is skeptical about the actual impact of movies on society: "I don't know how much films actually impact social movements. Fashion, perhaps?"
I disagree. Films can have a strong emotional impact and can influence, for good the way we look at life and issues.
Case in point, Rachid Bouchareb’s movie, Days of Glory, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film but did not win the Oscar. The movie narrates the story of a North African contingent of soldiers who fought the Nazis in Word War II and helped liberate France but never received the compensations promised by the French Government. Jacques Chirac, the French President, saw the movie, was scandalized by the injustice and by the fact that the French Government had ignored the plight of these veterans for almost 50 years. He raised the military pensions to the same level of their French comrades. The movie had a direct impact on the lives of more than 80,000 of veterans widow in more than 20 countries.
Maybe the Oscars, the Golden Globes, Cannes or the Sundance Film Festival should add “ethics and social change” in their numerous categories. The contenders could be movies that portrayed dramatic ethical dilemmas and the true heroes that struggle to do “the right thing.”