March 2008 Archive
March 3, 2008
In the recent Senate hearing on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball we witnessed two radically opposed testimonies. One was by Brian McNamee, who accused Roger Clemens of taking the drug, and the other by Roger Clemens, who was categorically denying it. Both could not be telling the truth: one had to be lying under oath.
Lying under oath or to authorities such as the IRS makes it a criminal offence. However lying is not illegal per se but it is, in most circumstances, unethical.
Why do we lie?
Fear and shame are probably the most common reasons people lie. Fear of the consequences that might result from what we have done but also fear of shame.
Professor Robert Feldman, of the University of Massachusetts thinks that lying is related to self-esteem. " We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher level." A study he published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, found that 60 percent of people had lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation, saying an average of approximately 3 "inaccurate things."
We start early. The February 18th, 2008 issue of New York Magazine asked in it cover story why kids lie? Professor Nancy Darling from Penn State University conducted a study and found that 98 percent of teens reported lying to their parents, yet 96 to 98 percent of those teens also believed that lying is morally wrong. Po Bronson, the author of the article explains that according to recent studies the most important reason children lie is because they imitate their parents.
The many euphemisms used for the words "lie" and "lying" seems to indicate that society in general disapproves of the practice. Words like "misstatements, or "false pretenses" are often used to replace the harsh word of "lie." Someone said: "Euphemism is an euphemism for lying."
It is a particular challenge in Public Relations when speaking to the media about our clients. David Finn, the co-founder and Chairman of Ruder Finn, says in his article "Why We Lie" (published in 8th volume of our magazine MOVE!) that: "we should always be scrupulous about not telling others something we do not believe is true."
My father always told us that he believed that lying is an expression of weakness and that people that are strong have to courage to face and tell the truth.
Horace Mann, the abolitionist, social reformer, and visionary educator said:
"Seek not greatness, but seek truth and you will find both."
March 11, 2008
The March 9th 2008 cover story of the magazine section of the New York Times is dedicated to "Giving it Away." Americans are generous people. According to many studies, Americans give more per capita to charity than any other Western (economically developed) countries. Americans gave away $285 billion in 2006, which represents 2.2 percent of our gross domestic product. Most of the gifts were small.
There are many explanations. One of them may come from the unique American concept and expression of "giving back" to society. I could not find the equivalent expression in French. I think that the concept derives from the fact that America is perceived and rightly so as a country of almost limitless opportunities. Almost anything is possible. People believe that in America hard work and good fortune will lead to success. Therefore one who has had the good fortune of becoming successful feels he owes something to those less fortunate.
It is true that the IRS allows taxpayers to deduct the amounts given from their taxable income, but I do not believe that it is the main reason people give. The fact that the Government encourages generosity is a good thing.
In Europe, the attitude is different. People believe that the Government is and should be in charge of caring for its economically challenged citizens. All one has to do is pay taxes and the Government will take care of the rest.
Does it really matter why people give? I think not. It would be sad if the true motive of a philanthropist when he or she donates is to have his or her name on a large plaque and to be seen as a respectable and generous citizen. According to Maimonides, giving anonymously is the highest and noblest form of giving.
What matters most, however is not the motivation of the giver but the fact that people in need will benefit from those donations.
It is very much the same with ethics. People sometimes question the true motive of "doing the right thing." I strongly believe that what matters most, is that the "right" thing is done.
Doing what is right repeatedly may operate a transformation in a person that will ultimately lead that person to doing the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.
Action comes first and then the heart may follow.
March 17, 2008
Reactions to the story of the soon to be former Governor of New York involvement in prostitution was intense ranging from disbelief, shock, and anger. What I think upset people the most was the hypocrisy. Tom Robbins, in his Village Voice March 12-18 editorial believes that Mr. Spitzer is "the most damaged politician in recent history, not because of his sins of commission are so great, but because he held so many others to the standards he knew he had no intention of holding himself to." Many questions still have to be answered and more information will be revealed in the next days and weeks to come.
The prevailing sentiment for me is one of sadness, to see, a reputation and a career totally destroyed, and to imagine the hurt and shame of his wife and daughters.
On January 30, I wrote in my blog entitled Promises, Promises, that: " New York State new Governor, Eliot Spitzer promised that ethics would be high on his agenda. He said in his inaugural speech that one of his "overarching objectives" was to make the government "ethical and wise" I then asked: "Can these promises be kept, and will they?"
Now we know.
In his first appereance on TV after the news broke out Mr. Spirtzer said:
"I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong,"
What values did he violate exactly? Let me list some of the obvious.
Who among us can truthfully say that we have never violated even to some degree one of these values? I know I can't and therefore, will not cast the first stone.
By posing the question, I am in not trying to minimizing his horrendus and deplorable actions but I believe that such a catastrophic situation could happen to anyone of us.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, the editor of the Intermountain Jewish News in Denver, asked in his New York Sun March 14 Op-Ed: Does Spitzer deserve mercy? He believes he does because, he says: "Everyone needs mercy. Everyone sins."
March 24, 2008
The State Department revealed that the passport files of all three candidates, John McCain, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama had been violated. Unauthorized State Department employees and contractors gained access to the files. Condeleezza Rice personally apologized to each candidate. It looks as if the breaches were not politically motivated but a full investigation is underway.
Senator Obama said to reporters after he learned of the breech:
"One of the things that the American people count on in their interactions with any level of government is that if they have to disclose personal information, that is going to stay personal and stay private, and when you have not just one, but a series of attempts to tap into people's personal records, that's a problem, not just for me, but for how our government is functioning."
We all value our privacy but we may be na´ve and overestimate how protected it actually is.
With the advance in technology, almost everything we do today leaves a trace that could be logged in some files. What we buy with a credit card, who we speak with on phone (in some cases, even what we say!) and where we go whether we drive or take public transport is all recorded.
Back in 1977, the U.S. Department of Justice Privacy Commission declared that:
"The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable." This was written long before the development of the Internet we know today.
Ann Ryan once said:
"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men."
We should be very vigilant and protect are privacy as much as it is possible but be reconciled with the idea that one day our privacy most probably will be violated to some degree whether by malicious intent or simply by accident.
We should also make sure that whatever we do, whether in our private lives or professional lives will withstand intense scrutiny that may follow a violation of our privacy.
March 31, 2008
The New England Journal of Medicine just published an article about a lung cancer study that could save your life if you are a smoker. The study conducted by Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College revealed that 80 % of lung cancer deaths could be prevented by CT scans. However the study was indirectly funded by the Ligget Group, which is a cigarette company! Many foundations and not for profit organizations refuse donations from the tobacco industry.
There are different ethical aspects to this complex issue.
Lack of Transparency: The funding for the study of $3.6 million came from an unknown not for profit organization call the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection Prevention & Treatment. However the Foundation was itself funded by the Ligget group, a tobacco company. The Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine was unaware of the connection. Some studies have been made that indicate that sponsors give money for research to influence, in their favor the outcome of the study, hence the incentive in sponsoring the research in the first place.
Motivation: What was the true motivation of the Ligget Group? Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine believes that the motivation was to diminish the seriousness of lung cancer. He said: "They want to show that lung cancer is not so bad because screening can save people. That is outrageous."
Blood Money: Should we accept money for a good cause from an individual or corporation when we strongly disagree with the donor's views and or disapprove of his or her activities? One should not give a simplistic answer to the question. It would be preferable from an ethics point of view not to accept such donations and try to find funding elsewhere. There may be some situations however when lives are at stake where we might decide, as a last resort, to accept such donations.
If you are a smoker, get a CT scan now!! It can't hurt you (you know that cigarettes will) and it could save you life. That to me is the ultimate ethical concern.