Ethics in Business Education

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 4 Apr 2011

Charles Mercieca, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

If we were to give a rapid glance at the last 6,000 years of recorded history, we would soon discover that most problems in the world stem from the government. Needless to say, the source of such problems may vary from one country to another. The most common one could be easily traced to questionable behavior in business transactions. This is due to power-abuse in the deliberate exploitation of people. We need to keep in mind here that the end does not necessarily justify the means. In other words, we cannot succeed in life through fraud and manipulation.

Integrity of Character

We are all familiar with such traditional sayings as: (a) honesty is the best policy, (b) the art of living is the art of giving, and (c) you reap what you plant. In all of our business dealings, integrity of character becomes an indispensable element in human relations. In this regard, egoism needs to be replaced by altruism, hatred by love, arrogance by modesty, pride by humility and anger by patience. Above all, trust must become a vital element, which is indispensable for the achievement of our common goals and objectives.

Such evidenced virtues were the source of power and strength of some of the major religious leaders in the world from Confucius down to Jesus of Nazareth all the way to Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and the list goes on and on. The presence of these deeply spiritual individuals made a difference. Because of them we have today a better world in spite of the manifold problems it still faces. Doing to others what we would like others to do to us, remains the way to go by all means and with no exceptions whatsoever.

Ethics deals with morality, that is, with human behavior. It is something that can be taught in schools at all levels of education through the development of virtues that would enable one`s character and personality to be pleasant, positive and constructive. When we feel at ease with those around us we are more likely to perform better. In this regard, we become visibly more successful to the satisfaction of everyone involved and concerned. Let us keep in mind that we live in the kind of world that we create by our actions. In other words, we reap what we plant, nothing less and nothing more.

A former president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor once made the following remark: “What are our universities doing? Some of the most sophisticated crimes in the nation are committed by former students of ours who graduated with flying colors, summa cum laude!” This remark was based on the fact that while our institutions of learning provide our students with knowledge, they fail to provide them with the responsibility to use such acquired knowledge in a positive and constructive manner. This means the present academic approach needs a lot of improvement.

Setting Good Example

Instructors in the schools of business have to keep in mind that their first duty is to set a good example for their students. They cannot exhort students to be honest in their business transactions while they themselves practice dishonesty through manipulation and fraud. A careful study of quite a few big corporations vindicates precisely what is being stated over here. For example, the weapons industry has emerged to become a very lucrative business. This is revealed in the fact that such an industry is ready to sell its lethal product to anyone that gives the right price.

It makes no difference if those who want to purchase such disastrous product happen to be friends or enemies. It really does not matter for the weapons industry if those to whom they sell weapons would decide to use them afterwards for defensive or offensive purposes. The primary purpose of such an industry is not to create a safer world, as it proclaims, but to make plenty of money and to make it fast, even if the world were to be literally annihilated as a result. This demonstrates clearly that those in the management of such an industry do not have any sense of responsibility due perhaps to lack of ethical knowledge in their business education.

Let us keep in mind that people are more important than money. In fact, if we were to have a world with people but with no money, everything would still move forward. People may still grow their food and build adequate houses where they can live. They may still get a good education as to develop better knowledge in the way they could make their life more beneficial and constructive. However, if we were to have all the money in the world with no people, all such money may be viewed merely as toilet paper that is totally worthless for all practical purposes.

When during the decade of the eighties Pope John Paul II was asked in Mexico as to whether he thought world peace was possible, he stated the following: “Yes, world peace is possible but only after two of the greatest evils of the 20th century are gone.” After a brief pause he added saying: “These two great evils are communism and capitalism because they both advance their cause through the exploitation of people.” Three years later communism collapsed and the world took a sigh of relief, thinking that now money would be spent for only constructive purposes.

Instead of having capitalism taking the lead to solve all vital human problems as to bring about permanent world peace, it embarked upon the largest military build-up in history. The weapons industry was adamantly determined not to go out of business. So, numerous weapons were furnished in countries with inner conflicts that led to civil wars, like we had with the case of Uganda, to mention one instant. This demonstrates clearly that the very concept of ethics in the business education of those involved in the transaction of such lethal products was conspicuously absent. The harm we are inflicting in the world at large is beginning to get out of control.

Our Moral Obligations

We are all familiar with the saying: “Better late than never.” We can still take the initiative to take over where the schools left off. This means we need to bring into the open the concept of business ethics as to have it implemented by all means available at our disposal. Anything we do in life, which is geared toward violating the divine positive law and the natural law, should be strongly opposed through all the peaceful means we have at our disposal. Such violations are revealed in the destruction of human lives and the annihilation of the infrastructure of cities.

Let us keep in mind the saying: “When there is a will there is a way.” When we deal with business education we are not merely dealing with that kind of education that students normally are expected to get in schools. We are dealing with all those sources that have the potential to covey principles of good ethics in business transactions of any kind. Hence, if we feel we are well versed in ethics then we should feel the obligation to provide guidelines when needed. We also should make it a point to bring into the open all moral abuses that are being taken for granted.

Hence, ethics in business education is to be taken in a broad sense. Just because the school from which we graduated did not offer a good program in business ethics, it does not mean that we are free to do anything that crosses our mind as long as that would lead to the eventual achievement of our goals and objectives. It’s better to make, say, $100,000 a year with honesty than $10 million a year with dishonesty. The first case will provide us with a good conscience and feeling of happiness while the second case will instill in us a bad conscience and a feeling of remorse and eventual unhappiness.

Happiness is something that comes from the inside of our being and it generally stems from the good and beneficial actions we perform. In essence, it is not linked with the material things of this world. This explains why we have so many people that have hardly the basic necessities of life and they are happy, while we have many people who are rich but feel rather desperate to the point, in a number of instances, of committing suicide. It explains why we had great people in history who were rich and gave everything they had to the poor to lead a very simplistic life.

The history of the world may be described as the history of human actions. When such actions are beneficial everyone ends up a winner. But when such actions are disastrous everyone ends up a loser. People are entitled to help even if they were to refuse it. At least we should do our best to give them the inspiration they need as to perform constructive actions that are beneficial not only to themselves but also to people elsewhere as well. The concept of ethics is not restricted to one person or to one group but to all people without exception.

Making Constructive Judgments

To this end, we should develop a strategy to convince those who work for the manufacture of lethal products to quit their jobs and to work, instead, for companies that produce beneficial products. Our job is merely to enlighten them to see things into true perspective before they may possibly have any regrets. When we speak of lethal products we are talking of a variety of items that would include water and air pollution that over the years have inflicted millions of people with cancer of some sort and led many of them to their grave at a faster pace than anticipated.

At this stage of history there seems to be a dire need to reform the teaching­/learning process as to make it more meaningful and beneficial. Rather than teaching a subject area as an end in itself, instructors should teach their respective subject areas as a means to a further end. This would be revealed in the students’ ability to use anything learned in school for positive and constructive purposes. One of the best contributions we can possibly make to our earthly community is to provide every human being with the ability to develop one’s potential to the maximum.

At the same time, we need to help all human beings to use the maximum of their potential to contribute toward the creation of a better and safer world. We need to bring into the open the viciousness of the Machiavellian dictum: “The end justifies the means.” By the way, this dictum has become the law of the mafia who try to get what they want even if they were to have a number of innocent people killed. Since everything we do in life may be viewed as business, including teaching, the concept of good ethics needs to be taught in every subject area.

Let us illustrate this by a couple of examples. Suppose we are assigned to teach history. It is not enough for the teacher to teach accurate historical facts. The teacher needs to go a step further and discuss with the students what could be done that we may avoid in the future the repetition of such a historical war or disaster. Hence, from the knowledge of history the students may feel the obligation to become directly involved in creating a better and safer world. The development of a conscience in the students as to feel the moral obligation to become involved in society constitutes an integral part of business ethics in the teaching of history.

Suppose we are now assigned to teach geography. It is not enough for the teacher to show a good map of the world with its oceans, continents and countries within each of such continents. The teacher needs to go a step further to demonstrate to the students how the boundaries of nations change from time to time. For example, before World War II, west Poland was a part of Germany and people there spoke German. Then it became a part of Poland and, while the people there still spoke German, they became officially Polish who now travel with a Polish passport.

Priority in Human Relations

The teacher here may raise to the students the following question: “Does it make sense for the world to refer to these people as Polish when they are essentially Germans?” Then the teacher may proceed to show how it would make more sense to speak of people in terms of their character and personality and in terms of what they can contribute to society than simply in terms of being Germans, French, Chinese, Polish or Russian. After all, the concept of ethics is linked to human actions and not to people’s nationality.

If we were to explore the nature of government of many countries in the world, we are likely to find out corruption a major factor. And if we were to study the major source of such corruption, it almost boils down to money, which is said to “buy” power. This is best understood when one studies the United States political system. In theory we have a nation of democracy but in practice we have a nation of plutocracy. For anyone to be elected, one must have plenty of money to reach millions of people through proper advertisements.

Once the individuals are elected mostly with corporate money, then their primary job is to boost the product of the corporations that financed their campaign, even though such product may prove to be a detriment to the people that voted to elect such officials. Here the American people witness corruption at work that comes from a conspicuous absence of ethics in the way business is conducted. The past is gone and we have no longer control over it. The present is in a state of transition. Our hope is to get good hold of the future relative to the knowledge and implementation of ethics in business education across every academic sector of each school.

In view of what has been stated, it is obvious that we cannot take lightly the role ethics plays in business education. As a matter of fact, it is a vital element in the various branches of academics as far as our ability to create a better and more stable community is concerned. If the members of every government were to conduct their job on ethically sound principles, the concept of struggles and wars, would become a thing of the past. Prosperity would flourish and people everywhere would be given the opportunity to make constructive contributions to society on a habitual basis.

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Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.

-President International Association of Educators for World Peace Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education, Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament.

-Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University.

-Hon President & Professor, SBS Swiss Business School, Zurich.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Apr 2011.

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