March 2007 Archive
March 5, 2007
The concept of loyalty is highly valued. We all want to be and to be perceived as being loyal. We want to be loyal to our family, friends, employer, and colleagues. However we may be faced with a conflict of loyalties.
Last month a New York Police Officer was charged of covering up for her husband who was charged in the shooting of another policeman. The Police officer was seen driving the SUV her husband used to get away. In her defense she said: “Me loving him does not condone what he did.”
In April 1996, Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber who terrorized America for more than 30 years was finally arrested. He was turned in by his own brother, David Kaczynski. He was later convicted for the death of three individuals and for wounding 23 and is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Some years ago, Elizabeth Kopp, the first woman elected to Switzerland’s Federal Council and Minister of Justice had to resign because she informed her husband, a businessman, that the government was investigating one of his companies. She was a loyal wife by being “true to him, as long as they both lived.” yet she was considered disloyal to the Government and her colleagues.
We also want to be loyal citizens yet we know that blind loyalty can be very dangerous.
During WW II, US citizens of Japanese origin were sent to detention camps on the suspicion of double loyalty. The majority of the German population was very loyal to Hitler but where was their loyalty to their Jewish neighbors? Where is the line between “My Country tis of Thee” and “Deutschland Uber Alles”? As Mark Twain once said: “Loyalty to the country always, loyalty to the Government, when it deserves it.”
These can be complex situations. What are the guidelines that could be helpful in solving the issues?
- We need to be free to make our decisions and be accountable for them. The concept of loyalty conveys the sense of autonomy and responsibility.
- We should consider the consequences of our action (or inaction) in any given situation, not only for ourselves, but also for our family our immediate circle of friends as well as for society at large.
- We should be able to live (and sleep) with the decisions we have made.
- We should also consider the legal implications involved and have a clear understanding of what is required by the law.
- Most importantly we should be loyal to ourselves and our beliefs and values.
In considering all these, it might be helpful to apply the Kant principle of whether or not society could function if our decisions were universally applied.
March 12, 2007
Although the trial was complex and highly political it seems to me that the central issue is about lying.
Scooter was not tried for revealing the name of Ms. Plame and therefore destroying her career as a secret CIA agent. He was convicted for lying about it. (A former federal prosecutor told me that prosecuting Mr. Libby for the act of revealing Ms. Plane identity would have been extremely difficult because the Government would have had to prove intent, which is always hard to do.)
Lying to the Government and under oath can indeed have serious consequences.
In the public relation profession, the issue of truth is very important. David Finn in his article published in MOVE! (Volume 8) called: "Why We Lie" says that:
"One of the complaints about public relations people made by criticsindeed their major complaintis that we are superficial in our thinking and too often we don't tell the truth. I think we should heed both criticisms and make a determined effort to improve our performance. Too often we don't do enough research to have reliable information about the message we are communicating, and in controversial issues we tend to believe what our clients tell us without listening to contrary views. If we're not careful we could make statements on their behalf that are not true."
Society has a high tolerance for so called "innocent" or "white" lies. The cover story of Time Out January 18, 2007 issue was: Lies (are good.) The article imagines more than 20 common day-to-day situations and "suggests" a standard lie and a deluxe lie in each situations:
Situation: Someone asks you your opinion about a big news story and you have no clue what they are talking about.
Standard lie: "Hmm..hard to say..what do you think?"
Deluxe lie: " I probably feel the same as you do, we always agree," then pause and wait expectantly to see if they will pick up the thread. Last resort: "I know! I wonder what Colbert will do with this?"
Asher Meir, the Jewish Ethicist says that "tradition does sanction an occasional "white lie" in order not to hurt someone's feeling."
However, Marc Salem, a body language specialist says, in the Time Out article, that "a normal person has a discomfort in telling an untruth." (I was told it was called a bad conscience!)
The lie-detector test is based on that premise. It measures variations in the body's temperature, heartbeat and blood pressure when the subject is lying.
The many idioms about lying reveal a general disapproval for the practice such as:
"He lied to me, looking me straight in the eyes;" Barefaced liar; Habitual liar; Lying through your teeth.
Lying and trust are certainly incompatible. Friedrich Nietzsche "I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you."
March 19, 2007
Each year corporations spend millions of dollars to develop and protect their brand or name. The concept of intellectual property, trademark and copyright is fundamental to business. To copy a trademark is counterfeiting which is a felony.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) estimates that the yearly cost of the worldwide counterfeit is approximately $500 billion.
Microsoft recently announced that it was launching lawsuits both in the US and in Europe to evict "cyber squatters." A cyber squatter is an individual or a corporation that registers a trademark domain name that is similar to an existing and legitimate trademark with the intention to offer to sell it back to the trademark owner for a large profit. One such cyber squatter registered the name of "micrsoft.com" Microsoft revealed that it has recovered more than one thousand domain name since last year.
What is in a name, or more precisely, what is in our name? What is our individual reputation? (I always wondered what people really mean when they say of someone: "He is a great guy" or "she is a wonderful woman?" What makes them great or wonderful?)
Barbara Garjian, a senior executive (and a fellow Armenian) of Chanel USA told the audience of an event I attended, how throughout her career, she had been influenced by one statement her father had made while she was growing up:
"Your name is on the box."
Her parents, immigrants, owned a convenience store in New York. Many immigrants began their American Dream by owning such stores. They were thus assured of having food and a roof for their families. Barbara helped out by delivering to their customers. She was motivated in the quality of the service she offered by the fact that their reputation was at stake. All through her life she remembered that whatever she did, whatever letter she signed, or comment she made, her name was "on the box."
Our reputation both precedes and follows us. Are we willing to do (or not do) whatever it takes to protect it?
As Warren Buffet once said:
It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.
March 26, 2007
The political world in the U.S. is up in arms about the recentfiring of eight federal prosecutors by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The fundamental question is whether the White House abused its constitutional power in influencing the Justice Department in not renewing the contracts of these eight prosecutors. It is important to remember that Federal Prosecutors are political appointees. In the past both the Republican and the Democratic presidents have used that privilege to the benefit of their party. Janet Reno, President Clinton's Attorney General fired all 93 U.S. attorneys after her appointment in 1993. Robert Kennedy was criticized for being to close to John Kennedy when he was Attorney General.
The authors of the Constitution were wise in establishing a check and balance of power between the Judicial, Legislative and Executive. What about the boundaries between the White House and the Justice Department? Where is the line between what constitutes acceptable influence from objectionable interference?
Determining boundaries is crucial in resolving any ethical dilemmas. The term abuse, by definition implies boundaries. Trying to determine what is acceptable and what is not can sometimes be difficult. We need points of reference. Such points of reference can be found in the Constitution, the law or tradition and even religion.
According to a friend of mine, Professor and Rabbi Armand Abecassis, there is an old Jewish belief that at the Last Judgment Day, three professions (or professionals) will be more severely judged.
- The Rabbi, because he has spirituality authority.
- The Doctor, because he has the authority of knowledge
- The Butcher, representing the power of the economy, providing a basic human need. (Unless of course, you are a vegetarian!).
We all, to some degree, have power. We can affect adversely or favorable the life of others. We should be careful, not to abuse the power we have, however great or small.