Suffering from ... moral disengagement?

The papers are full of stories of bosses paying themselves six figures while thousands of employees risk losing their jobs.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Bernie Madoff faces 150 years in prison, yet hardly seems overwhelmed with remorse. This is because he and the disgraced chairmen refusing to give up vast pensions suffer from moral disengagement. Being dishonest and living with it guilt-free is a part of the human condition. We humans lie to ourselves easily. It takes only one violation of our ethical code ('well, everyone else is doing it') before we get used to it. We'd rather distance ourselves from our dishonest behaviour than live with the remorse and the consequences. Soon, we're sleeping well at night again, thinking it normal to steal from the firm or cheat on our partner. Researchers found that given the opportunity to cheat, many take it. The solution is not to allow moral disengagement to take hold. Honour codes in schools have been proved to prevent cheating. In banking, setting up a flat salary scheme might prevent excessive self-remuneration and sudden disengagement when shareholders and government ministers see red. Humans hate feeling guilty; like Madoff, they prefer to think it's the rest of the world that suffers from greed.

Helen Kirwan-Taylor - helen@kirwantaylor.com

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