The Pressure to be Unethical

Some years back there was a problem at one of the military academies.  Some of the students were cheating on their exams.

The senior officers believed that corruption in society was to blame, writes Robert E. Quinn in his terrific book The Deep Change Field Guide: “They argued that by the time some eighteen-year-olds arrived at the academy they were irredeemable.”

Robert had been invited to a meeting of senior officers.  He asked if anyone in the room had served in Vietnam.  Most had.  He asked if any of them had participated in the phenomenon called the “body count,” a metric used to determine how American forces were performing by counting enemy deaths after each battle.  The numbers were often significantly inflated.

“From the discomfort in the room, it was clear that they were all aware of the issue.”  Robert writes: “Why, I asked, would a commissioned officer engage in such behavior?”

He then shared with the senior officers about a time when he was in officer basic training and his company had done poorly on a test.  The poor performance reflected negatively on the staff.  The master sergeant told the company to “cooperate and graduate – meaning that we should share answers so that everyone would pass.  In the other words, the army taught me to cheat,” Robert stated.

In any large organization, Robert shared people often experience pressure to engage in unethical behavior so that everyone will look good.

“Is it possible that there is a system here that requires the cadets to cheat, teaches them to cheat, and rewards them for cheating?” asked Robert.

“There was a very long silence,” Robert writes.  “Finally, the officer in charge turned to the officer next to him, and as if I had never said a word, resumed the old discussion about moral decay in society.  For the rest of the day, the officers ignored me.”

Yesterday we looked at the concept of slow death.

By embracing deep change, Robert states we can escape slow death and the pain of the past.

Yet, we may actually prefer slow death.  Because we tend to prefer “the devil we know.”

The universe is an ever-changing system, Robert writes.  We all know the pace of change is frenetic.  The external world sends us signals we need to change and move toward a perspective that embraces a higher level of complexity.  

Yet, we often deny these signals.

“Often, when we find ourselves in situations that require us to adapt,” Robert writes, “we choose instead to distort reality, to deny what the world is telling us.” 

Many times, Robert writes, we gravitate toward routine tasks: “I refer to it as the tyranny of the in-basket – the illusion that we have too much to do to take the time necessary to do what we really need to do.”

Accepting slow death over deep change.  More tomorrow.  

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Reflection:  Think back over stressful periods of my life.  Did I lean toward slow death or deep change?

Action:  Journal about it.

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