Ken Dryden, politician, lawyer, businessman, author, and former NHL goaltender, has been thinking and talking lately about the worrisome ramp-up of dirty hits in Hockey. In correlation, and well-aware of the growing conviction many of us have that Business is also ramping-up its dirty hits a.k.a. bad behaviours, Chris MacDonald, philosophy professor and esteemed business ethics advisor, analogized the two situations by saying: “Hockey, like commerce, is a fundamentally adversarial context that also happens to be socially beneficial (editor’s note: sometimes). That is; the rest of society benefits from the fact that both hockey players and business executives regard the other team as the enemy and try their best to outdo them. Try, that is, within certain limits.”
“Certain limits”, the player huffs. ‘Look bud; you can fool yourself all you want but the name of the game ain’t Hockey; it’s Winning. And if winning means going for someone’s head so they end up brain-injured like what happened to Crosby or Bergeron, having to sit in some dark room for months and never getting to feel like themselves again, tough.’
“Certain limits”, the master of stealthy take-overs snorts. ‘Hey kid; you don’t get a Ferrari or a yacht that sleeps twenty with a big crew waitin’ on every whim if you’re gonna limit yourself when you start out in business. Limits shmimits.’
Limits shmimits. Who can blame them for objecting? Limits imply rules and while we’re happy defining and following our own; we’re not as enamoured with ones imposed on us.
For years, the people who ran companies defined their own sets of parameters which seemed to be sufficient. Take for instance, the buy-out of an ailing company. Profitability, market share, and brand reputation were assuredly key criteria but they were not allowed to overtake the desire and will to be a good citizen and moral person. Sometimes the ancillary goals were to forestall the loss of jobs and almost certain devastation to families, or to rescue an esteemed friend or long-time associate from bankruptcy’s shame and ostracization, the act of taking over a company was often to some extent driven by something more than the business opportunity at hand and the selfish desire to keep one’s honourable reputation with oneself intact. Honour somehow played a role.
Honour had (and has) a trickle-down effect, as did (and does) dishonour. We emulated it; believed others were doing the same, and therefore trusted one another and the institutions we’d set up.
And then the lid blew off.
We could try to surmise why: Quiz Show scandals; the Love Canal; hippies; fire-bombs, screaming people, and war’s truth; ferocious dogs & cops; bad hairstyles & disco; tyrants unleashing genocides; fat cats in limos—but none of what we come up with can offer an easy answer. The code of honour that bound us together was flung into the streets, ridiculed, kicked, and prodded until … a shadow of its former self, it slipped away unnoticed. Which left us with many of today’s out-to-get-you and win-at-all-costs excesses.
Up came the sludge at the bottom … the me!me!me-first overdone ostentatious sludge: the inconvenience-you-rather-than-me golden-parachuted rent the Ritz usurious sell my soul/name your price child-labour for a dividend sludge. And even if we didn’t collect dividends at the cost of children, we did turn away from the sweat on their brow. (If you have time, read the old Ursula Leguin story: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas; it nut-shells the situation perfectly.)
Well then; as you and I and all of us got sludge on our hands, isn’t it more likely Dryden and MacDonald meant ‘people’ make dirty hits or ‘people’ have bad behaviours? After all, isn’t what we’ve decided to call ‘Business’ or ‘the NHL’ actually us – you and I and whoever else wants to get together five times a week to exchange our time and skills for money?
So if it is us (and it surely is for it doesn’t make any sense to say: Business set-up that Ponzi Scheme or Business took home ten mill last year, and similarly nonsensical to say the NHL leapt—sprang up off the ice in a successful attempt to bash Bergeron’s brain), yelling, blaming, insulting, or trying to destroy the scapegoats won’t solve the problem. Admittedly, we’d be temporarily content … until we realize anew ‘our game’ is being played violently not victoriously; usury is back in black; and fraud disguised as friendship is once again popular.
Cleaning-up, locking up, or policing them won’t provide the changes we’re looking for because the ramp-up Dryden and MacDonald are talking about is an aggregated display of the kinds of bad decisions we are making. Our decision to maim isn’t made anywhere near a dressing room or sheet of ice; nor has it anything to do with the NHL. Our decision to be greedy isn’t made behind a leather-topped desk or in the boardroom or when that Ferrari passes by, nor has it to do with Business. Our decisions about our behaviours are made as we lie in bed at night conjuring this way, then that, until we have created the lying spectres of justification.
Don’t get us wrong – we are not saying that in “the good old days” all actions were honourable, and now everything and everyone has sludge on it. That feels like nothing more than a longing gaze at a whitewashed past. But we are saying there has been a marked increase in this selfishness and lack of regard for the greater good, and that in the end, this hurts everyone. Maybe the incidence isn’t on the rise and we’re just hearing more about it these days due to our over-the-top barrage of media. Either way, this behaviour is not something we want to see more of.
So now what? Given that Business and Hockey and umpteen other entities like city councils, universities, or even urban transit authorities, are just words for people who get together with a common interest or purpose in mind, we’re going to have to begin Honouring Business again … which means we’re going to have to become skilled in The Business of Honouring Ourselves. The downside? We have to wait until the June issue to get the game-rules. The upside? We get a month to wallow in the sludge and honourably protest our innocence.
Written by: The Common Outlook Team