Moral Amnesia

By Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA

Eight years ago, I wrote a Moral Amnesia article because of my concern with what was going on in the world. From my purview, nothing has changed but has continued on a downward spiral.

We are still in an ethical crisis. The affliction with many government leaders, companies, educational institutions, and people is moral amnesia.  Whether you are in a leadership role or not, the state of ethical behavior continues to be under scrutiny.

Moral — Of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior. 

Ethical — Behaving with integrity. Defining immoral and unethical is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: You know it when you see it.

moral-amnesiaBut what does it mean to be ethical and moral? It sounds like a good thing, and normally most people steer clear of unethical behavior.  But how do you know if someone is ethical or not? Should it even be important?

Many people think ethics and integrity are the same. Realistically, ethics are the statements hanging on the wall while integrity is the way the ethics are consistently applied. Perhaps walking your talk is the real definition.

Ethics are perceived as the values displayed in your personal life, and integrity is the way you model and apply your values to relationships, parenting, caring and giving.  Ethics plus integrity equal morality.

Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men. Confucius

Has anything changed? Here’s another example from a few years back: Many people are drugged with Moral Amnesia. How about the Sofitel sexual assault involving IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn? This is the epitome of toxic behavior and invincibility. Do some people think they are so above the fray that they can live on the edge and never get caught? The effects of Moral Amnesia are far reaching; highly visible role models influence the future behavior of our society.

What moral amnesia does is make it OK not to notice, and more importantly, check your own behavior:

  • Cheating on expense reports
  • Promising client’s services and products that cannot be supplied
  • Including personal expenditures as business
  • Creating policy for others but not abiding by the same policy
  • Expecting others to do the dirty work
  • Padding financial budgets to cover poor planning

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Thanks – Marsha

Ps: There is even a study on this.  Want to know more? READ HERE

A study published (paywall) today (May 16, 2016) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that when we act unethically, we’re more likely to remember these actions less clearly. Researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard University coined the term “unethical amnesia” to describe this phenomenon, which they believe stems from the fact that memories of ourselves acting in ways we shouldn’t are uncomfortable.

“Unethical amnesia is driven by the desire to lower one’s distress that comes from acting unethically and to maintain a positive self-image as a moral individual,” the authors write in the paper.

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Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA

 

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