It feels like social values are crumbling. South of the border, we see more division than vision. The melting pot is bubbling over and threatening to crack. Locally, hateful messages were spray-painted on the roof of a local church. There is a new meanness in the air. My stomach turns every time I watch the news and frankly, it’s difficult to write anything that does not seem grossly insufficient.
Leaders across all sectors and at all levels urgently need to denounce hatred and re-establish norms of basic civility, at the very least. Norms in any organization – from a company to a federal cabinet- are not vague “do the right thing” statements. They are not group think. They are behaviours that reflect the ethics of the organization. Acceptable behaviours are modelled and transgressions are punished.
This is not “soft stuff, ” unaddressed ethical transgressions erode trust, productivity and social cohesion. Could there be anything more important?
Ethical practice needs to be at the centre of decision-making to establish norms, to serve as a tool for value-creation and risk management, and so everyone in the organization can live with integrity.
A recent visit to The Evidence Room at the Royal Ontario Museum reminded me that
no profession is exempt from an ethical duty. Featuring “reconstructions of three key components of the Auschwitz gas chambers—a gas column, gas-tight door, and gas-tight hatch—and over 60 plaster casts of architectural evidence, such as blueprints, contractors’ bills and photographs,”* the installation shows that Auschwitz was carefully planned as a Nazi death site for a million Jews.
Not intended for more innocuous purposes, as some Holocaust deniers claimed, Auschwitz was deliberate, architectural murder. The construction of Auschwitz was “the greatest crime ever committed by architects,” according to historical architect Robert Jan van Pelt who presented evidence at the Irving v Penguin books libel trial in 2000.
“The greatest crime ever committed by architects”
— Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, exhibition principal and University Professor, University of Waterloo School of Architecture
While most businesses today are not planning mass genocide, all organizations can examine their leadership behaviours, their motives, their practices and question who benefits from their actions and who is hurt by them.
- What am I really building?
- Is it for the greater good in the long-term?
- Am I modelling integrity, honesty and civility?
- Are my actions kind?
- Would I be willing to see others in a similar position take the same actions towards me?
- Do my actions respect the rights of others?
- Do I deal decisively and harshly with people who violate ethical norms to send a clear signal it won’t be tolerated?
- What have I done stop injustice?
As always, thank you for reading. I recognize that I am woefully short of doing justice to The Evidence Room exhibit and the trial behind it. I hope it piques your interest enough to find out more.
I welcome your comments and wish you a happy, peaceful and positive end to your summer.
* From the ROM website: http://www.rom.on.ca/en/evidence