Times of global crisis: Navigating ethics, power and prosperity as a business

Business audit

It's the perfect time for a business audit as we emerge from COVID-19.

“Today it happens it is the same
to be decent or a traitor
To be an ignorant, wise, a pickpocket,
a generous person or a swindler
All is the same, nothing is better
They are the same, a fool
and a professor
There are no failing grades or hierarchy,
the immoral people have caught up with us.
If one lives in deceit
and another, in their ambition, steals.
It’s the same if it’s a priest,
a mattress maker, a king of clubs,
a rascal or a stowaway.”

Currently, this seems to be the world we live in, and everywhere we turn, there’s another story to prove it. You don’t need to dig in too deeply to find there are issues with ethics and power all across the world. The US, Latin America, the UK, Africa, Myanmar, the list goes on and on. You would be forgiven for thinking that the state of affairs has never been worse. You would also be forgiven for deciding it’s better to accept this is the way things are, there is nothing you can do, and you’re not going to bother anymore.

But putting our heads in the sand won’t make it go away, and it won’t make anything better either. So, when we feel hopeless, there are a few things worth reminding ourselves.

Do not stall

In the business world, there are many things we can do to help. First of all: do not freeze, do not stall, and keep moving. Actively decide where you want your organisation to go and where you want it to be in the short- and long-term. Not thinking about it, not planning for the future and not taking action is a decision in itself, but probably not one that will help you. You can start now, where you are, with what you have. If you don’t move, you are going backwards.

Being prosperous is not unethical

With so many cases of unethical behaviour in governments, businesses and other organisations, it may sometimes seem the only way of running a financially successful operation is by wrongdoing. But it is not. There is no shame in running a prosperous business — even in times of crisis. It is not unethical. If what you do helps someone else solve a problem or a need, you are in a good business. A business that doesn’t do well and goes out of business is not good for anyone. The more prosperous a business is, the better it is for its employees, community and leaders. A business that thrives buys more from its suppliers, giving more work to others. Running a good, prosperous and ethical business is a way of advancing and creating opportunities for others to move forward also.      

Get perspective

Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard and author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, says: “Contrary to the impression that you might get from the newspapers — that we’re living in a time of epidemics and war and crime — the curves show that humanity has been getting better, that we’re living longer, we are fighting fewer wars, and fewer people are being killed in the wars. Our rate of homicide is down. Violence against women is down. More children are going to school, girls included. More of the world is literate. We have more leisure time than our ancestors did. Diseases are being decimated. Famines are becoming rarer, so virtually anything that you could measure that you’d want to call human well-being has improved over the last two centuries, but also over the last couple of decades.”

The words at the top of this post are an amateur translation of lyrics written in 1934. They perfectly apply to current global conditions, but so too did they in the 1930s and many other times in history. The words are from a tango called “Cambalache”, you can listen to it here.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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