“How ethical do you think you are compared to the other readers?” challenge the authors in the beginning of this book. The answer to this question forms the core of the book. It appears that most people have an elevated opinion of their ethics and confuse reality with idealism. The authors encourage readers to be aware of such blind spots or “the gap between who you are and who you want to be.”
Perhaps this gap can explain the slew of scandals that are being unearthed everyday in every sphere of our lives from the banking industry to the government. Whatever be the motive, the common thread that links the key actors, is their stance of denial and refusal to admit to any wrongdoing. A logical question that follows is why this happens and how we can address such behaviour. The authors explain that such cases are of “bounded” ethicality, where individuals take decisions which, at a later date, seem to be far removed from who they really are or what they actually believe in. A key reason for this is the lack of deliberate and thoughtful decision-making, coupled with lack of awareness about their own thought processes. The book continues to delve deep into the psychology underlying unethical behaviour and discusses various modes of thinking that can lead to such unethical decisions.
The authors also highlight how incentivising good behaviour does not have the intended effect – because a moral dilemma is translated into an economic decision. One such example considers the case of a day-care centre that began fining parents who were late in picking up their children. However, after the introduction of the fine, it was found that instances of parents arriving late had increased. The decision to pick up their children was not based on moral correctness, but rather, on whether they could pay the fine or not! This scenario explains why certain steps taken by organisations to encourage ethical behaviour are actually counterproductive.
While the authors focus on why individuals behave unethically, they do not address the question of the reason underlying unacceptable behaviour and what can be done to prevent such occurrences. Self-awareness and deliberate decision-making can increase people’s consciousness but can they help in reforming a criminal? Can the value systems and personal beliefs of an individual be changed? In addressing the problem of unethical behaviour, these are the questions that need to be answered.
Our thinking and perspectives on acceptable behaviour need to change dramatically in order to ensure progress and harmony. The book discusses some baby steps that we could take to initiate
By Max-H Bazerman and Ann E Tenbrunsel
Reviewed by: Shreerang Godbole, PGP Class of 2012
PUBLISHERS: Princeton University Press