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Morals in our business life

Great Expectations

The values that people hold are both interesting and varied among mankind.

It has been of interest to me that the stated values are not always the values exhibited by the actions of a person. People tend to profess to have the values they believe are expected of them. However, the stated values are not the ones they live by.

To really feel comfortable with one’s self, one’s actions or behavior must be congruent with one’s real value system. To live our lives outside these guiding forces causes us great tension and stress.

As an adolescent, I knew a man who was in a leadership position in our church. He taught the Bible class I attended. He owned and operated a financially profitable used car business. High mileage used cars were purchased in the northern states and towed back south for resale. The bodies on these cars were rusted from the salt-covered frozen highways of the Northeast. Protective undercoating for cars were not very effective 30 years ago. His workers performed minor repairs, patched and painted the rusting bodies and rolled back the odometer to show fewer miles. The cars were sold and often repossessed when payments were overdue. I once heard him brag of having sold a car six different times. With each sale, he had exceeded his original investment.

There was nothing illegal concerning these practices at the time. It did, however, strike me as being inconsistent with the values he taught me on Sunday. This man professed one set of values but his real values were based in law. Because he was doing nothing illegal, it was within his value system to conduct his business in this matter.

In contrast to this man, a young entrepreneur talked with me about a personal conflict between his business practice and his value system. He was making a good living manufacturing, selling and servicing a single product. But he felt that the profit margin for his product was too high. His customers were not getting real value for the money they were spending. His dilemma was that he could not make the money that he felt he needed if he sold and serviced his product for less. He said that he had to do something to resolve the feelings that he was experiencing. After wrestling with this internal conflict for awhile, he decided to expand his product line and increase his volume of sales. He reasoned that the increase in gross sales would allow him to give value to his customers and still provide the money he needed to succeed financially in his business. The last time I saw him his plan of action was beginning to work. This man’s value system is based on higher values than those provided by law.

Stages of moral development

With apologies to Kholburg, I am attempting to apply his stages of moral development to the world of business. I challenge you to honestly rate yourself and strive to obtain a higher level. According to Kholburg, less than 2% of mankind ever reach the highest level of moral development.

• Stage 0 — These are the sleaze bags who may call themselves business people, but they are really crooks. They only value themselves. An example would be con artists who set up boiler room telemarketing schemes designed to beat people out of money.

• Stage 1 — This is at least a start. These people will follow the law but only if the law is enforced. The rule for them is to stay within the law if you are forced to do so.

• Stage 2 — In this stage of business morality, the question of “What’s in it for me?” is the value driving the behavior. He or she does not stop to ask, “What’s in this for others?”

• Stage 3 – What others think about you is a driving force. You want others to perceive you as being capable, honest, reliable and a good, decent business person. This is a good start for developing higher levels of morality.

• Stage 4 — Law and order is important to this person. Unlike the person in Stage 0, this person will follow the law even if there is no law to enforce compliance. His business practice is not controlled by fear of being punished if he breaks the law. His actions are controlled by a morality that would make him uncomfortable violating a law even if he knew he would never get caught.

• Stage 5 — This is a wonderful level of moral development. I have been fortunate enough to work with persons who have a genuine concern for their fellow man. They are guided by an effort to follow the Golden Rule, what is right, win-win business deals and expectations of our culture.

• Stage 6 — According to Kholburg studies, very few of us ever obtain this moral stage of development. A business person at this stage of development would do the right thing even at great personal loss. This person would lose his business rather than do anything that violated his moral standards.

Archie H. King, LPC, is a counselor and human resources consultant in Jackson.

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