Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Misguided and Foolish Ethics of Powerful People

We’ve all had fun with the Anthony Weiner story, at his namesake’s expense but the jokes are starting to get very old and tired. The news that his wife is pregnant and claims she’ll stay with him makes it even less humorous. The contact with the seventeen year old is just another piece of tiresome news. Enough already!

Beneath all this is a sad pattern that seems to proliferate among powerful people, particularly men. Human Behavior and Relationship Expert and Aussie Patrick Wanis says in his blog last month that men in power can be sensation-seekers who thrive on taking risks, and it’s all the more easy for them because they have greater access and opportunities to cheat than the average man does. “Powerful men face greater temptation because they have power, control and command over other people. Power leads to cheating because it can lead to delusions of invincibility, entitlement and the male ego-drive to win, conquer and dominate.” Isn’t it interesting how people lose their perspective and good judgment when they acquire influence, money and control? Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, Mark Sanford, Bernie Madoff, Mel Gibson…Whether it’s affairs, inappropriate behavior, unethical or illegal business decisions, drunken temper tantrums, racist rants… it usually comes back to bite the offender.

This isn’t totally limited to men: look at Martha Stewart. How stupid was it to listen to a broker who foolishly ignored insider trading laws to give her news under the table so she could sell her stock before the big announcement? Did she think she was special? But men seem to be the main ones who get caught in this web of ethical blindness. Consistently, these powerful men, especially politicians, seem to forget the golden rule, as mentioned in a New York Daily News article, “Would it be okay if one of my constituents saw this or my wife saw this?”  Duh. Seems obvious to the rest of us but I guess in the heat of the moment, it’s not on the radar.

Then they appear before the media and the viewing television audience at the press conference, tearfully apologizing. I love the half apologies that sound like this: “I regret that others were hurt by my actions and my work has been compromised” – basically communicating: I’m sorry I got caught.

Dr. Wanis quotes Britain’s Lord Acton in his classic quip from 1887, ‘All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’”


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