Great observations from Howard Gardner in the Washington Post. Dr. Gardner is a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-author of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet. In putting together Good Work, Dr. Garner and his colleagues interviewed “100 of the ‘best and brightest’ students and spoke with them in depth about life and work.” They found:
Over and over again, students told us that they admired good work and wanted to be good workers. But they also told us they wanted — ardently — to be successful. They feared that their peers were cutting corners and that if they themselves behaved ethically, they would be bested. And so, they told us in effect, “Let us cut corners now and one day, when we have achieved fame and fortune, we’ll be good workers and set a good example.” A classic case of the ends justify the means.
We were so concerned by the results that, for the past six years, we have conducted reflection sessions at elite colleges, including Harvard. Again, we have found the students to be articulate, thoughtful, even lovable. Yet over and over again, we have also found hollowness at the core.
Two examples: In discussing the firing of a dean who lied about her academic qualifications, no student supported the firing. The most common responses were “She’s doing a good job, what’s the problem?” and “Everyone lies on their résumé.” In a discussion of the documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” students were asked what they thought of the company traders who manipulated the price of energy. No student condemned the traders; responses varied from caveat emptor to saying it’s the job of the governor or the state assembly to monitor the situation.
Personal integrity, a sense of seemliness and concern for those who depend on us are not “values” that are no better or worse than other values. Historically, they have been deeply embedded in the American version of capitalism.
Individual liberty and free markets can facilitate widespread economic benefits, but a modicum of virtue (or basic decency) is essential.
HT: Gene Veith