Jim de Bree: The absence of civility and integrity hurts us

Jim de Bree
Jim de Bree

“Right is right—even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong—even if everyone is doing it.”
— Saint Augustine

Our society has become increasingly tribal in recent years.

Some justify their behavior by saying the other side is equally bad or worse. Others seek to absolve their conduct, because they believe that they are the only ones who are right.

Last fall, I attended a civility conference at College of the Canyons.

The aim of the conference was to promote a reasoned discussion of issues, expressing disagreement in a respectful way and objectively listening to other points of view. This, of course, means that you have to overcome your own preconceptions while exemplifying behavior worthy of emulation by others.

I have recently been performing consulting services to my former firm, a Big Four accounting firm.

One of their requirements was that I take an ethics class about integrity. Integrity is a defensive wall of the accounting profession. One of the hallmarks of integrity is civility.

Accountants strive to be objective problem solvers who ensure that facts are properly reported, and our current environment places unprecedented stress on the accounting profession.

Problem solving starts by identifying the issue or dilemma and assessing the risks posed by the situation.

The next steps are objectively considering alternative actions, determining the best course of action and implementing a solution.

The final step is evaluating the results.

One of the major obstacles to achieving success is that everyone sees the situation through their own lens, thereby introducing bias that potentially impairs objectivity.

Tribal behavior accelerates these impediments—particularly when such behavior is augmented by outside influences.

When I look back on the course, clearly the present preponderance of tribal behavior was a catalyst for developing the curriculum.

One of the case studies dealt with a leader who subtly silenced dissent.

Several team members who had good ideas that would have stress tested the leader’s proposed course of action remained silent.

The project, ultimately, failed because the premise behind the solution was not adequately challenged and the best ideas were not brought forward.

Courtesy and fairness are keystones to effective interaction with other stakeholders.

Effective leaders do not tolerate retaliation against or belittling of those who, in good faith, present an alternative viewpoint.

Simplified or seemingly ideal proposed situations may be too good to be true and frequently they are not the best answer.

Instead, the best answer, usually, comes from conclusions which are based on sound collective judgement and experience using tested tools and methodology.

Diverse experiences tend to bring new ideas and potentially new problem solving approaches to the team.

The best decisions are not always the easy choices. One of the takeaways from the course is that everyone is responsible for doing the right thing. Even if everyone else is silent when the proverbial elephant is in the parlor, one must demonstrate ethical leadership by speaking up.

Civility builds integrity, and integrity builds trust.

After all, if you can’t trust other stakeholders, you are not likely to listen to their viewpoints.

The course I completed last week dealt with professional settings.

The COC civility conference dealt with similar issues in a broader societal context. The lessons learned from each were similar.

Consider how tribal behavior, influenced by special interests, has prevented a reasoned discussion of important issues.

For example, last year’s healthcare debate failed to address the underlying causes of the inadequacies and costliness of our healthcare system.

Everyone has an opinion about healthcare, but few people have the requisite knowledge of the underlying causes to consider a solution that effectively deals with the situation.

Our fiscal and economic policies are reminiscent of Thelma and Louise driving over the canyon’s precipice.

Each political party has difficulty exercising fiscal responsibility and blames the other party for the deficit and resulting national debt.

They have not learned the lesson that everyone is responsible for doing the right thing.

In this case, if we don’t make tough decisions now, our choices will only get worse.

The recent Florida school shooting has elicited numerous responses from Signal readers.

Generally the responders fall into one of two camps—they either think we need stronger gun control laws or we mustn’t do anything that infringes on gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.

There is remarkably little dialog because neither party is willing to objectively consider the other side’s perspective.

Thus, no collective judgement can be brought to bear. This ensures that the problems associated with gun violence will continue as they have for many years.

These are merely three examples of how we no longer effectively interact with each other.

Our leaders from both sides of the aisle are no longer able to civically engage each other, resulting in amplified mistrust and, ultimately, a decline in integrity.

We are all paying the price for this behavior.

Jim de Bree is a retired CPA who resides in Valencia.

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