Ethics, Money and Power

by | Feb 22, 2019 | Change, Ideas, Questions |

It’s no contest really, ethics always loses. At least in the short term; sometimes it makes a triumphant return in the long term but that is never certain. The fear of the potential loss of income will often result in us making a choice that doesn’t fit with our stated values and ethics (or perhaps these choices help to reveal our true values and ethics).

And yet, decisions are not laid out this way; decisions fit into the story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we do, and often when we are uncomfortable, we tell ourselves we have no choice; that the ethical choice has been taken away from us, that that powers that be have made the choice for us and therefore what can we do.

Power seeks monopoly (more power) and so it dictates the terms – you must use our system and give us control over the data – otherwise you won’t be invited to join the group. Speaking truth to power is difficult (as this historian learned at Davos and with Fox news) and almost always will come at a cost because power wants to stay in power and control.

It’s also rarely one dimensional. Powerful organisations who dictate terms have ‘sub’ organisations who do their implementation; these sub-organisations over time align their operating models closely with power making it painfully difficult to change the model because the moment we do, we are challenging the system. That is, until those in power no longer need the ‘subs’ and won’t think twice about discarding; this is usually when eyes open to the stories that have been told and believed. However, there is no doubt most social organisations need to change their operating model as I talk about on a recent podcast (Pie Charts & Logistics).

And I think it is fair to say shared values and ethics are tough to have as we tend to interpret words, values, ethics through our own lenses, our own stories and experiences, and especially our own current set of fears and insecurities.

Whenever ethics, money and power mix, it’s always tough, and it happens most days. My family attempts to use less plastic, to go plastic free, and then we go to the supermarket or have a child’s birthday party. The interplay of the three is complex in the day to day of life, but even more so when millions of dollars and millions of vulnerable people are involved. And frankly the conversations are tough, tense, uncomfortable, but when we can be courageous enough to have them, seeds are planted which may grow into things we never imagined.

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