How good are you, really?
Cracking column by Eva Wiseman in yesterday’s Observer on the trials of trying to live ethically – self-coruscating about the blind eye she turns to ethical issues we don’t really want to confront, as we all do.
It reminded me of one of my favourite books, How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. It concerns a middle-class left-leaning doctor, whose feckless, selfish husband suddenly flips into a paragon of selfless virtue. He insists on giving away any unnecessary possessions to those less fortunate, and lets random homeless people live in their house. She knows she should welcome his values, but hates the privation and fears for her family. It’s not the world’s greatest novel, but I just love the premise.
As a local elected politician for the last 12 years, I’ve learnt not to try and portray myself as ethically superior to my political rivals as no-one is perfect and I’ll eventually stumble. And I am always instantly suspicious of those who do claim the moral high ground as they’re often the very ones who turn out to be crooked.
Which brings us to business. If you are going to portray your organisation as ‘ethical’, you’d better expect the press to go over your affairs with a fine tooth comb and you won’t be able to control the stories that emerge, whether fair or otherwise.
In my opinion, the best strategy is ‘show, don’t tell’ – demonstrating good behaviour in practice with with no overarching claim to sainthood. After all, people believe what they see more than what they read.