Can ethics be taught?
The Wikipedia defines ethics as a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. It is also known as moral philosophy. For all of us ethics means living our life responsibly; to review whether our actions are right or wrong. Ethical behavior is that which is morally accepted as “good” and “right” as opposed to “bad” or “wrong” in a particular situation. All of us live in an ethical illusion about ourselves. The ethical illusions are discrepancies between how we think and how we behave and how we take an action. It also includes our sense of reasoning for our behavior. Laws are the regulations established, and usually written, by a governing power. Ethics are the morals of a culture, and often times, they inform the laws that are made. The distinction is that, while you may obey the law, you might not always act ethically. It would be a rare case for something to be ethical, but against the law. An important point to keep in mind is that ethics do not have any associated punishments when broken. A law, however, specifically sets the types of repercussions that should occur should it be broken.
Some of the top B Schools in the world are revamping their syllabus adding business ethics as a core paper, adding projects on ethical values. The process of revamping is for also pondering over and challenging the standard of business wisdom practiced for decades. Ethics and social responsibility seems to be in limelight by some serious thinkers and practitioners. Why?
Business organizations dawdle from ethical practices because of compelling and persuasive day-to-day organizational practices. Ethics take a backset because of the multifaceted processes and practices of businesses which leaves little time or penchant to divert attention to the moral content of organizational decision-making. Morality in business appears to be so obscure and qualitative in nature that it lacks substance in relation to business objectives and goals. Business relies on quantitative performance than qualitative performance. The pace leaves hardly any time for the managers in reworking their decisions based on ethical framework. Hence the entire frame work and thinking of the managers lacks ethical decision making. Dear folks, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle sadly have no place in the twenty first century business environment. A yawning gap exists between philosophical knowledge and business practices. Each generation has learnt ethics and morality with a divergence! Morality is just a dictionary word. Yet, like it or not, there has and will continue to be a surge of interest in ethics.
Ethisphere, a US based Research Company dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility published its 110 business houses all over world for their ethical behavior in 2011. Through in-depth research and a multi-step analysis, Ethisphere reviewed nominations from companies in more than 100 countries and 36 industries. Some of the ethical companies are Adidas, eBay, Microsoft and Colgate Palmolive. From India only HDFC Bank has entered the list.
In the world famous Enron case we saw when the legal noose tightens around the corporate; one question that arises is why the legal fraternity drag in Enron’s auditing firm Arthur Anderson? Is it possible for an entire auditing firm to be guilty of a crime in connection with an auditing engagement? I think the Enron scandal is symptomatic of something much broader than Enron. I think it’s symptomatic of a breakdown of the ethical values of business over a period of perhaps 20 years, a gradual erosion of business ethics that brought investors to an Enron. Friends haven’t we witnessed since then a whole host of Enrons as we moved down the road. So here goes my question -What ethical lesson should we teach our students? A Satyam Case, Enron Case, I Gate Case, 2 G, 3G, Common Wealth games, Bofors, Fodder scam, IPL, City Bank the list can go on and on. Our memories are so short, that by the time we are fatigued with one scam there appears another scam. The big money, the lifestyles of cheaters, their overstated personas, and the glamour that comes with money feature more prominently in the young minds if the ethical frameworks in these and many other case studies are not tackled in the class rooms.
The fundamental of any business firm cannot claim to be ethical firm if it looks at profits and numbers while ignoring the legality and legitimacy. Today, businesses and industries increasingly find themselves facing external pressure to improve their ethical practices. The alert and well informed customers today scrutinize business activities. Pressure groups are a good example of this. They are external stakeholders they focus on activities & fair practice of industries with direct and indirect actions which at times has forced some firms to close down their shutters.
In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal announced that ethics courses are useless because ethics can’t be taught. Although few people would turn to the Wall Street Journal as a learned expert on the teaching of ethics raised an objection. But, I am seriously asking: Can ethics be taught?
In conclusion, many aspects stimulate a person’s development in life; the early childhood when impressions are made, the culture at home, parent’s backgrounds, surrounding, his own experience, and one of the most crucial factors is education. Subjects like business ethics, morals or social responsibilities challenge students to look at issues from a universal point of view. These subjects move their thinking upward with intensity. I think ethics can be taught at any stage in life, but how a student absorbs it, observes it and examines it depends on his/her upbringing. However, the efforts of B Schools giving eminence to ethics in their curriculum cannot be overlooked because developing ethical leaders is both an academic imperative and a critical issue for business world.