It’s not a class, it’s character.
Why am I not persuaded that upright ethics will be downright enforced; that “good moral character” will replace the current “embarrassing culture of misconduct”; and that what is honest, righteous, virtuous and honorable – all synonyms for ethical – will be from this day forward utilized as the essential building blocks upon “the foundation – ethics and character – of an institution and a society” now that a senior officer shall be appointed to promote such virtues within the Pentagon?
Responding to “a growing list of scandals, including allegations of widespread cheating,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, according to Ernesto Londono reporting this past February 7 in “The Washington Post”, evidently thinks better rules can make better men if “constantly emphasized at every level.”
‘Now hear this (an instruction on American naval ships to cease activity and listen-up): Admirals shall be admirable; generals (generally) genteel; and those not of the corps d’elite but of the rank and file should nonetheless conduct themselves henceforth in a manner as if in fact they were or ever want to be the crème de la crème. That will be all. At ease.’
“Now Hear This” is also a Looney Tune which, according to the Urban Dictionary, describes someone who is, well, a looney-tune.
Have we heard this song and dance before?
Fifteen months ago The New York Times (NYT) opined, in light of the Petraeus-Allen-Sinclair-Johnson III affairs – to name a few of the military with tarnished brass over just that previous year alone – that maybe the Pentagon will get about “enforc(ing) the military’s standards of sexual conduct more consistently.”
And at that time the NYT Editorial Board declared: “The Pentagon needs clear rules on misconduct.”
But that was then and this is now.
Now what they say we need is what we needed then, still. Consistency; clarity; someone to help the rank and file, and all those with the all the rank to actually read the file.
Same song, second verse. Should get better but only gets worse.
And why is that?
Because better rules don’t make for better men. Not more rules; not consistently enforced rules; not ‘and-this-time-we-mean-it’ rules.
Ethics violations of course are not exclusive to the Pentagon.
“Ethical lapses are everywhere,” writes John C. Maxwell in his book “Ethics 101 – What Every Leader Needs to Know.”
“Top Republican Under Ethics Microscope,” read the Seattle headline (February 6, 2014).
“Judge Accused of Ethics Breaches” read “The Washington Post” headline (February 7, 2014). Turns out the same building housing the judge in question is home to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.
“When pollster George Barna asked people whether they had ‘complete confidence’ that leaders from various professions would ‘consistently make job-related decisions that are morally appropriate,’ the results were abysmal,” writes Maxwell.
Elected government officials for example hardly registered on the “Complete Confidence” radar at but three percent. Ministers didn’t fare much better: 11 percent.
“Where once we fashioned ourselves according to best behaviors, we now accommodate ourselves to the least,” writes Kathleen Parker in “The Washington Post,” an article entitled “Americans Should Resolve to Restore Responsible Adulthood.”
Part of Parker’s solution: “resurrect the community standard.
“Fundamental is allegiance to community standards — the tacit agreement among adults that our communities be as physically secure and psychologically safe as possible for the well-being of children, who, let’s do put a fine point on it, someday soon will be in charge. For guidance, the correct answer to nearly any question is another question: What is best for children?”
Rather than rules, what every company, community, church, council and civic organization – and individual for that matter – needs is an axiom, “or postulate, a self-evident principle, one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument.”
Something inviolable, immersed in the serum of truth, emblazoned as a masthead banner not only on letterhead and fine-print purpose statements, but a reason for being understood and underscored from CEO to stockholders.
It might be “to improve the quality of life” for all residents; or the “health before wealth” watchwords of Merck & Co.; or the ten “I believe” statements of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; or “to govern well, the primary obligation” of those elected to office.
Governing well, according to Carl H. Neu, Jr., President of Neu and Company and Director of the Center for the Future of Local Governance, means “exercising wisdom, judgment and courage to be stewards of the quality of the community’s future.”
Whatever the wording of the letterhead; the plain language of the bottom line; the principle that makes life worth living; the organizational reason for belonging, two things are true. It must matter. Because it will be tested.
Such principles are to an individual and family and community what a rudder is to a ship. Without it you are “hopelessly adrift,” said Louis Shores in “Lead the Field,” and thus “subject to every shift of wind and tide.”
Such principles, wrote Rockefeller, “point the way to usefulness and happiness in life, to courage and peace in death.”
Their formulation becomes the filter through which all decisions pass, or not; the standard against which all actions are measured and taken, or not; the grid that determines our goals or – if not and without – our grave and that of those for whose lives we had responsibility.