Serving on our local electric cooperative board (East Central Energy) is an honor and a responsibility. I take it very seriously. We are the stewards of our members’ investment in their electric utility. Controversy over decisions made by the CEO and directors of Crow Wing Power recently received front page coverage in the Brainerd Dispatch. It begs the question: How could good people make such bad decisions?
A study published by Dr. Muel Kaptein sheds light on how the mind tricks people into losing their moral compass.
The compensation effect People have a tendency to assume they accumulate moral capital. We use it to balance out bad deeds and give ourselves a break from goodness, like a piece of chocolate after a week of salads.
Tunnel vision Setting goals and driving hard to achieve them is a great asset unless we become so possessed by a singular focus on a particular goal that we lose sight of other important considerations such as ethics.
The power to conform The pressure to conform is powerful. When a group engages in unethical behavior, individuals are far more likely to participate in or condone that behavior than risk speaking up and objecting. (An example is the movie Ox-Bow Incident staring Henry Fonda.)
Obedience to authority It’s difficult for most people to ignore the orders or even wishes of those in authority. They also feel less responsible for wrongdoings if they act under the direction of someone in authority.
Winner-take-all We live in a world where there is often only one winner of the prize, the job or the credit. But this culture doesn’t produce the best outcomes. When there is only one winner, people are more likely to cheat than face the consequences of losing.
Cognitive dissonance and rationalization If people’s actions differ from their morals they rationalize to build up protection against accusations from others and from their own conscience. The bigger the dissonance, the larger the rationalization, the longer it lasts and the less immoral it seems.
The most shocking thing about ethical violations is the simple, mundane conditions that contribute to them.
As Senator Ensign told his fellow senators in his farewell speech in May 2011, “When one takes a position of leadership, there is a very real danger of getting caught up in the hype surrounding that status … Surround yourselves with people who will be honest with you about how you really are and what you are becoming, and then make them promise to not hold back… from telling you the truth.”
The road is easier together,