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Power and morality

It always amazes me how as one manager or chief exits, suddenly all thoughts of him are vanished and more importantly one swiftly hears of his/her imperfections. Whereas, the sun is suddenly shining out of … the new boss who has not even had a chance to “show his/her mettle” as yet, but he/she is quickly bestowed such accolades that one wonders if they are able to think straight.

This form of treatment is particularly outstanding in our culture where we, for the most part, are very critical of each other to such an extent that one can easily see the “evidence of psychological enslavement”. It is particularly obvious if the incumbent is as close to white as possible, is an off spring of a well known person or is foreign to the Caribbean.

You see, we tend to view people according to their genes or their background. For instance, there are some individuals who we believe are unique and can inherit intelligence and common sense from their fore fathers even though at times it is apparent that this talent seems invisible to the naked eye.

Whereas, although one can be highly educated and their parents were unknown (normal citizens) they may not receive the accolades that the ones with the “gifted” genes appear to receive. This is probably why if one visits our penal institution there is rarely a son or daughter of persons with “gifted” genes to be found. The article this week is about power and morality.

It is easy for people of “the cloth” to use their status to bring about change or persuade others to think along certain lines while doing what psychologists call “self promoting”. So with all this talk about morality in the press lately I decided to do some research on the topic and to add what my grandmother would call “my two cents worth”.

Firstly, let me provide a definition of morality as proposed by Stanford’s (University) Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011). Morality is a term “used either (1) descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or (a) some other group, such as religion or (b) accepted by an individual for” his or “her own behaviour or (2) normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons”.

So in looking at morality it would be easy for onlookers to espouse that something is immoral and point fingers at leaders (or anyone in charge) because certain behaviour is not in keeping with everyday occurrences in our society. However, people change with responsibility and they are often faced with moral issues that affect the well-being of others. For instance, you may love your dog but if the poor animal is in lots of pain from a disease that veterinary medicine cannot cure you may make the moral decision to used euthanasia (have him put to sleep).

Although confronted by similar decisions about humans, one does not act in the same manner due to legal ramifications and moral standards of society. Nevertheless, a moral dilemma still exists. So according to Kohlberg, if a man steals a drug to save his wife’s life one must determine on moral grounds if he should be punished or set free. You see, it is widely felt that moral reasoning is based on deep and thorough internal reflection and analysis. Nonetheless, this is generally not the case. Morality is usually influenced by insight and “gut” feelings that are grounded in our socio-cultural environment. Take for example the wearing of pants by women. Only a few short years ago many religious denominations were very vehement in their stance against females who wore such clothing designs. This attitude has now changed to reflect our cultural standard of dress.

And it has changed to such an extent that even in more contemporary times female clerics are observed dressed in designs that reflect the times in which we live (Lammers & Stapel, 2009). Indeed some female clerics appear to be trying to exceed normal citizens with all the glamorous make-up and dress. So is this immoral? The answer is, it depends on what is accepted by our society and who controls the range of power.

Naturally, it has become evident that the myopic manner of thinking that is prevalent throughout our society encourages one to overlook certain ills that are like a “beam across our eyes” and focus on the “mote” that could only be seen with the help of a magnifying glass. This is mainly due to the influence of perceived powerful individuals.

So what really is this power that all and sundry seem to show such respect? According to some researchers, power can be defined as the ability to control your own resources as well as those of others (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003). You see, just as one’s social cultural environment can influence moral judgement, so too can power.

In fact, researchers believe that power is the premiere social influence in determining an individual’s behaviour in society and he/she who holds this power determines if something is moral or not (Galinsky et al, 2003).

So what has this to do with the preamble in the opening vignette you may ask? Well in terms of changing leaders or managers one cannot help but mention the recent discourse about legalising homosexuality as some pressing moral issue for our new leaders to handle. This issue was laid out by some clerics as if it were of major importance.

However, one is forced to ask the question: What of the other issues that are far more pressing? For instance, the poor Auditor General is mandated to provide a report about missing monies every year, and not one cleric (that I know of) has taken the time to even mention this problem as example of what is morally wrong in our society. Now let me mention the cash-for-gold issue that is literally driving terror into the hearts of retired folks and others who very often are holding on to the only residue of a passed loved one for comfort. How about the recent disrespect of elderly folks who are often abandoned at the hospital with no one to care or visit them except the medical staff and other arbitrary persons.

I cannot leave out the recent “cussing” out by a former MP reported in the media as well as the blatant disregard for property by all and sundry. Furthermore, how about the recent accusations of rising cases of corruption in our fair country by some international assessment firms?

Moreover, one only has to take a walk along the road where school children are gathered and one would hear the loud, indecent language that emanates from the mouths of children as young as seven years old to know that there is widespread moral decay throughout our society.

I must also mention here the recent allegations against parents who take money or gifts of any kind to keep quiet when their children have been sexually molested.

So if the clerics who seemed to be influenced by power can only focus on homosexuality as an indicator of moral decay, I want to tell these individuals just take a walk in any neighbourhood, listen to the radio, talk to the youth, talk to employees in the workplace who are experiencing bullying all day, and for that matter just pull your head out of the sand, focus on the beam that is blocking your vision and recognise that we have far more pressing issues than homosexuality and whether or not it should be legalised.

Finally, instead of focusing on minute issues, let us encourage our leaders and managers who hold the power even if they are new or have been in the position for a while to focus on real and current issues. We all know that if the decaying moral fibre is not contained at this stage it could result in disaster for all. So let us tackle the beam. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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