Blog: The Ethical Echo Chamber

Leadership Lessons from the Friendly Skies

Fashions change, and so do standards. John F. Kennedy attended his presidential inauguration without a hat, and instantly hats fell out of style. Female attire that’s perfectly acceptable today would have landed a woman in jail a century ago.

But there’s a difference between styles and standards. A relaxed dress code may work in the offices of Facebook and Google, but conventional businesses find that productivity drops off when executives drop their office shirts, skirts, and slacks.

So if United airlines wants to hold its employees to a more formal standard of attire when they’re flying as a corporate perk, perhaps the company should have been applauded for its professionalism.

And if that requires family members who fly on non-revenue tickets to spruce up a bit, is that such a high price to pay?

Well, you’d certainly think so after the twitterstorm that engulfed the carrier earlier this year. And since it’s the season for New Year’s resolutions, let’s think back to last March, when an uninformed bystander jumped to conclusions and — rather than investigating to get her facts straight — tried and convicted United in the court of public opinion.

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One trifling exception

Why Ethics Matter, Part 6: Change Reality by Accepting Reality

What are Ethics?  2 minute video

“It’s impossible.”

How many times have you heard that — or said it yourself — when it clearly wasn’t true? When we don’t want to face reality, to accept responsibility, or to face accountability, we assert that reality must be what we want it to be and can’t be anything else.

If we aren’t prepared to face reality, we can’t be ethical, and we certainly can’t solve our problems or anyone else’s.  So what do we do about it? The answer is here:

The Quagmire of Manipulation

America Donald Trump Election Donald Politician

Love him or hate him, you have to admire Donald Trump’s genius for manipulating the media.  What’s even more impressive is the way he’s been beating them at their own game.

In his recent book, Win Bigly, Scott Adams deconstructs the president’s odyssey of extremist declarations, puerile outbursts, and over-the-top promises.  The renowned cartoonist of Dilbert fame convincingly reframes the Trump campaign and presidency, not as the random escapades of a cartoonish narcissist but as the calculated strategy of a smooth and savvy operator.

According to this thesis, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric calling for building a wall, mass deportations of immigrants, and banning Muslims – together with his warning of ISIS in the Vatican and his torrent of adolescent tweets – have all been pieces of a prearranged puzzle.  One can argue the extent to which he advocated these positions or intended to implement them.  What seems clear is that Mr. Trump anticipated exactly how incendiary they would sound, how violently his detractors would react to them, and how staking out extreme starting positions would give him room to negotiate later on.

How could he not have sucked all the air out of the country by sparking dual conflagrations of nationalist celebration and liberal outrage?

So why exactly did this help Donald Trump?  Because the constant repetition of his ideas gradually drained them of their shock value while systematically embedding them in the country’s collective consciousness.

The more we hear something – anything – the more familiar it becomes and, proportionately, the less frightening.  At the same time, the very outrageousness of his early proposals allowed him to walk them back and thereby appear more reasonable by moderating his positions.

He even colored his hair more blond and tinted his skin less orange.

In short, Mr. Trump played the media like a virtuoso, conscripting their irreflective aid as they blasted his name and image across the country.  With their cooperation, the electorate gradually got used to the idea of an otherwise unthinkable candidate and voted him into office.

But the media should have known better.  Because they have been doing the same thing themselves for decades.

Since the 1970s, the news media and the entertainment industry have been allies in the transformation of American culture.  The family-based values of the post-World War II generation did not suit the progressives who envisioned a country free from traditional conventions and unfettered by social stigma.

And so filmmakers brought us movies like Brokeback Mountain, the gay-cowboy saga that, predictably, garnered a slew of Oscar nominations.  The television studios showed us clever children running circles around their clueless parents in The Simpsons, and brought a gay couple front and center in American homes with Will and Grace.

During those years, Americans grew increasingly accustomed to the withering of traditional roles, as young people were indoctrinated into the new normal and their conservative elders were worn down by the relentless force of cultural inertia.

None of this was accidental.  And whether you think it has been good or bad for the country, it succeeded with ruthless effectiveness.

But what took the media decades to achieve, Donald Trump accomplished in 18 months.

But here’s the real problem.  As power players become more sophisticated at manipulating the public, we slip further and further into an Orwellian future where truth becomes expendable, morality becomes relative, and civility becomes an anachronism.

As a culture, we have never believed in victory at any cost.  That’s why there’s a Geneva Convention for warfare, compliance standards for business, and sportsmanship recognition on the athletic field.  But nowhere is moral conduct more critical than among our leaders.

Be a tail among lions rather than a head among foxes, teaches the Talmud.  Good leaders benefit all who follow them by raising the standard of personal conduct.  But one who attracts followers with fox-like craftiness by appealing to the darker side of human nature will inevitably leave chaos in his wake.

Every community rests on a foundation of civility and ethics, a foundation that needs constant reinforcement to remain steadfast.  But when a society is overtaken by the politics of personal ideology and personal power, the most solid foundation can be eroded in no time at all.

The art of dealing is a given in the jungle of the boardroom.  In the halls of government and the chambers of civic discourse, the diplomacy of character, discipline, and nobility is the only formula for lasting success.

Published in Jewish World Review

Photo Credit:  Max Pixel

The Ethics of Ransomware

It was Joseph Tainter who warned that the more complex our society becomes, the more vulnerable we are. This became painfully obvious when hundreds of thousands of ransomware victims around the world faced the prospect of having to pay extortion money to get back the use of their own computers.

Some of the victims were corporations. But others were hospitals, whose patients lives were endangered by the virus that crippled emergency and diagnostic equipment.

This raises all kinds of ethical questions:

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The Light and the Dark

Why Ethics Matter, Part 5: The Paradox of Average Beauty

According to psychology, beauty is something very different from what we think it is. Similarly, the excitement we associate with the exotic and unusual is more in our minds than in reality.

If we don’t recognize the subconscious forces at play upon us, we can slip into unethical behavior without even realizing it. How do we acquire the mindset for successful coping?

Watch this 2-minute video to find the answers.

Chanukah — Open Your Eyes

There’s nothing like becoming a grandfather.  Normally pulled in all directions by the endless jobs on my to-do list, I forget all about them every time I hold my three-month-old granddaughter and stare into her eyes.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I ask her silently.

The answer is: yes.

According to a study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, making eye contact with an infant causes the brain patterns of both you and the baby to fall into sync with one another.

A similar phenomenon has been observed among high school students working collaboratively in the classroom and among adults who reach agreement in discussion.  Of course, it’s fairly predictable that by thinking alike people cause their brain waves become synchronized.  What the new research shows is that the same thing happens independent of any exchange of ideas or information.

This kind of sympathetic connection can be wonderful when it brings people together by forming a common bond.  But it can also be enormously dangerous.

And it provides a profound insight into the historical backdrop behind the Festival of Chanukah.

The battle against Greek domination was only one of many struggles against oppression in Jewish history.  The Babylonians tried to cut off the Jews from their spiritual identity by destroying the Temple in Jerusalem and exiling the nation from its land.  Under Persian rule, the wicked Haman hatched his plot to exterminate every Jewish man, woman, and child.  The Romans combined the tactics of all the oppressors who came before them in a relentless campaign that lasted for centuries.

But it was the Syrian-Greeks who employed the most insidious stratagem:  cultural assimilation.  In the language of the sages, their objective was to darken the eyes of the Jewish people.

The culture of Greece dazzled the world with its entrancing beauty and magnetic sophistication.  But it was essentially a culture of form over substance.  The Olympic games celebrated physical prowess over inner character.  The art of sophistry revered oratorical elegance over soundness of argument.  Greek society idealized both the human form and the human mind, elevating humanity to the level of deification.

In contrast, Jewish thought asserts that Man is a perpetual work in progress, always incomplete by design, always striving toward self-improvement, always with a mission defined by an Authority greater than himself.  As such, every tenet of the Jews and their philosophy was anathema to the thinking of their Greek overlords.

But the glittery aestheticism of Greek culture was irresistible to some.  The Jewish Hellenists looked into the eyes of their masters and imagined a meeting of minds, a new syncretism whereby the most attractive aspects of Judaism and Grecianism might be blended into harmonious unification.

This was their undoing.  A culture that values inner truth and substance can never merge with a culture that places the highest premium on external form.  And a society that worships itself will never suffer a people who affirm loyalty to a Higher Power.

It was inevitable, therefore, that some Jews would give themselves over entirely to the ways of Greece and abandon their heritage, and that others would open their eyes and recognize that they could only survive by turning away from the seductive sparkle of Greek secularism.

Herein lies the compelling symbolism of the Chanukah candles.  There is nothing more blinding than brightly flashing lights before our eyes that overwhelm our senses and bewitch us with their intensity.  Ultimately, we descend into the most dangerous kind of darkness, the kind in which we lose all awareness that we cannot see.

The antidote is to turn away from the enticing light, to look into the darkness, to search for the source of faithful illumination that can guide us along the path of spiritual integrity.  Like the canopy of heaven whose glory only reveals itself far from the city lights, the flames of the Chanukah menorah shine bright out of the deepest darkness, when the days are shortest and the cold of winter has descended.

In a world ablaze with the deceptive light of moral anarchy and empty icons, the Chanukah candles remind us that the light of enduring truth can still be found by turning away from the glitter and by gazing into the hidden sources of timeless wisdom.

Published in Jewish World Review

When bubbles burst

The Festival of Chanukah begins tonight. Here are some thoughts from last year.

Yonason Goldson

champagne-1600x1200Raise your glass of champagne to toast the new year.  And then, before you take your first sip, ask yourself this question:  where do the bubbles come from?

You see them, don’t you – those strings of tiny bubbles rising steadily from the bottom of your fluted goblet?  They seem to appear out of nothing and come from nowhere.  And yet they keep coming, like refugees from some parallel universe escaping through an inter-dimensional portal, yearning to be free.

The explanation is quite simple.  What is more compelling is how the mystery of champagne bubbles can lead us to victory in the modern culture wars.

It can also provide a deeper insight into history’s first culture war, which culminated in the miracle of Chanukah.

TRAPPED IN THE DEPTHS

An average glass of champagne contains about 20 million microscopic bubbles, produced when fermentation under pressure forces carbon gas into wine…

View original post 773 more words

Divine Harmony

Why do some songs merely entertain, where others penetrate to the depths of our souls?  Why does one song leave us unmoved, where another evokes passion or joy or sorrow?

We might find an answer by framing the question differently:

What is harmony?

Any thoughtful combination of notes can produce a pleasing sound.  But not all composition is inspired, not all orchestration sublime.  And even then, only once in a long while does the coalescence of notes and instrumental arrangement produce a true symphonic masterpiece, one that carries us to new heights of exultation.

Add to that the poetry of artful lyrics seasoned with shrewd insight into the human condition, and you will experience the fusion of heart and mind in a glorious oneness of divine synchronicity.

There is a single word to describe this.

Read the rest here, from this month’s issue of The Wagon Magazine.

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