Why I Distrust the Media

Why I Distrust the Media

As a young teenager in the early 1960s, I vividly recall the day when I took a bus into Birmingham to see a movie. The bus stopped just south of the downtown area because the streets were blocked. Marchers were protesting the segregated lunch counters in downtown stores. The driver asked all passengers to exit the bus and told us to walk over a viaduct if we wanted to proceed into downtown. I did so but had to wait, standing on the viaduct while demonstrators passed on the street ahead. More people gathered, some Black and others White, but all was peaceful and rather routine. One could even describe the scene as just another day of democracy in action in a changing world.

While waiting for the street to clear, I noticed three men talking together while standing on some nearby grass. One man was White, one was Black, and the third was carrying a video camera. The cameraman backed away a few feet from the others. Suddenly, the White man lunged at the Black man, hitting him with his fists and kicking him. The cameraman recorded it all. After a few moments, the White man quit his attack and he and the cameraman and the Black man walked off together, resuming their seemingly normal conversation.

What had I witnessed? My interpretation is that the three men, perhaps journalists, had just combined to stage a phony portrayal of brutality of Whites toward Blacks on the streets of Birmingham. Did they sell the video to a media outlet, perhaps a national television network? Was the concocted struggle used in nationwide broadcasts to show an instance of deplorable racial brutality by the people of Alabama?

As an impressionable youth, I was shocked by what the three men did. Perhaps their main personal end was to make a profit, and they simply felt that something dramatic needed to be generated if they were to sell a video since the actual peacefulness of the day was too boring to record. Or perhaps they genuinely were dedicated to supporting the cause of the marchers, even to the point of being creative with the facts. In any case, they followed an ethic that claims a good end justifies any means toward that end. As their moral justification, perhaps they believed that, since integration is a good end, lying, deception, and blanket defamation of ordinary people are acceptable means to that end.

But, having experienced the factual situation, I had a different view of reality. I had been raised to view truth as objective and to believe that empirical evidence counts. However, on that day I was exposed to a postmodern phenomenon. I started to grow cynical, concluding that I had to become critically discerning of anything coming from the media, local or national.

Over the years, and most apparently during the recent campaign season, many media outlets and campaign organizations have demonstrated that my cynicism, unfortunately, is well founded.

American culture has suffered because we have continued to drift away from seeking and reporting the truth. Many have adopted a journalistic ethic of reporting and saying whatever they believe will work toward promoting an ideological agenda—or furthering a preconceived notion. But even if we believe the agenda is a good one, is not the distortion or denial of objective truth something that ultimately causes cultural and ethical harm along with the good sought?

Legal segregation finally was overcome. But some of the means employed have led to harmful decay as well. Formerly unethical journalistic practices that have often prevailed since the 1960s have become more the norm, resulting in the greater prevalence of distrust and divisions throughout society. We are now reaping harm from unethical means that sought good ends. The whirlwind is increasing.

                                                                           J. Thomas Whetstone, D.Phil.      November 2016

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When Virtue Requires Discrimination

Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus (1990) defines discriminate as “to make a difference or distinction; (with in favor of or against) to treat favorably or unfavorably in comparison with others.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary’s (1990) first definition is “unfavourable treatment based on prejudice, esp. regarding race, colour, or sex.” But this British dictionary’s third definition, like Webster’s, is a more traditional (and neutral) one, “the power of discriminating or observing differences.” To discriminate is most basically to make or see a distinction—it is thus essential for making any wise choice among competing alternatives. And drawing from Aristotle, a virtuous person makes informed distinctions, seeking justice and truth through application of practical wisdom, a sophisticated form of common sense.

Discrimination with informed discernment is essential for practical wisdom (Aristotle’s phronesis or Aquinas’s prudentia) which depends upon one’s ability to perceive the particular situation accurately in its context, to have the appropriate feelings or desires about it, to deliberate as to the proper action in the situation, and to act accordingly. Practical wisdom is the virtue that disposes a person to make decisions and act in a virtuous manner, with serious thought as to the right way to do the right thing in the particular circumstance at the right time. The virtuous person acts, not because of financial rewards or threats of punishment, but because it is right. Practical wisdom is not inbred but must be learned. People can learn to make good judgments in difficult situations as the gain over time experienced judgment.

As an intellectual virtue, practical wisdom cannot be exercised without discrimination based on an awareness and analysis of the facts regarding the choice one makes. Discrimination should not be considered a vice; properly applied, it promotes virtue. A virtuous person is thus a discriminating person, although not prejudiced based only on race, color, or sex—or only based on an ideology. Indeed, exercising virtue requires balance, finding the appropriate mean between extremes of personal qualities—which tend to be vicious.

Those so myopic as to base decisions on a single ideological premise, those who narrowly follow a strict ideology, are essentially no different from those whom the Anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled stupid, people deficient or dull in understanding, those who act without reason or judgment (Webster, 1990).

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice….Neither protests nor the use of force  accomplish anything here (re the stupid); reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, and incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack….Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “On Stupidity,” Letters and Papers from Prison)

Bonhoeffer does not speak merely against National Socialists; his assessment applies universally, to any person who adheres rigidly to an ideology—that person, however well educated, is acting stupidly. Such a person behaves in opposition to those who seek to apply the virtue of phronesis or practical wisdom. The ideology rigidly applied might be National Socialist or a racist or sexist one, or it might be another form of politically-demanded correctness. Instead of seeking true justice for all parties affected by a decision and carefully considering the unique aspects of the situation as it affects various people in its multi-faceted context, the ideologue is vicious. Claiming moral purity, he ignores the collective good of the people and uncompromisingly imposes his extreme position. He or she is dangerous and likely an oppressor.

Since the founding of our great country, Americans have sought to be a virtuous people where freedom is defended and nurtured. Despite our many shortcomings, we have been a moral exemplar to the world. Surely, we generally have not been guilty of behaviors that could be labeled as stupid. But social changes are occurring at a rapid pace—and some are being imposed, without widespread deliberation, based on extreme ideological positions. The charge of stupidity is unsettling; but is a tree not known by its fruit?

Consider the recent statements and actions taken by the Obama Administration in attacking the laws of certain states and threatening public school officials throughout the nation. This Administration is relying solely on an ill-considered social ideology rather than the will of the people affected. The Department of Justice seeks to overturn the long-held moral value that people should use only those public facilities designated for their biological genders. The new ideology insists, instead, that because a relatively few individuals consider themselves as transgender and thus express more comfort in using the toilet facilities of their desired gender, the Federal Government must ensure that they are allowed to do so, no matter what. Washington elites have issued threatening ultimatums that sovereign states and free citizens understand as not only violations of traditional moral standards regarding privacy but also as potentially dangerous, especially for young people. Indeed, the ideologue-based pressure being applied is opposed to traditional common sense. It is contrary to a practical wisdom based on the facts of the situation at hand, the traditional morality of the American people, and the overall legal process and welfare of the Constitutional Republic.

In claiming to oppose discrimination against the transgendered, the Administration abuses and oversteps its power without regard to important practical and relevant considerations. It claims to establish—and impose—a new “right” that is in no way part of traditional moral law. Such an abuse is unwise. It ignores the need for practical wisdom that points to the need for continued discrimination based on biological reality. It must be categorized for what it is—stupid.

Copyright: J. Thomas Whetstone, D.Phil., 16 May 2016

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Leader Role Models: Heroines

An important way to build the moral character you need for good leadership is to observe and possibly emulate other leaders.  You can also decide to learn from their vices and avoid certain behaviors, as well.

In our culture, we often pay a lot of attention to physical beauty, like that of the following TV and movie stars.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

Sophie Marceau

Sophie Marceau

Marilyn Monroe and Sophie Marceau are exciting models, but are they really heroines to emulate?
Why not consider some others, such as:

Helen Keller

Helen Keller

Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva

And Burma’s Suu Kyi and Alabama’s Maria Fearing.

This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.

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Honesty & Trust, some thoughts

Honesty is an essential virtue for ethical business activity, perhaps the most important in most organizational cultures. In the Aristotelian sense, it is properly a golden mean between the vice manifest in chronic deception, lying, and misrepresentation and the opposing vice of untactful naivety, total honesty projected without reasonable and sensible restraint. Empirical research (Whetstone, 2003) ranks honesty as the highest of the required manager virtues in a grocery chain, whereas the dishonest manager is considered the worst, most vicious, of all.

The related virtue of trust is also highly rated, widely acclaimed as being essential for right and good ethics. Businesses are built on a foundation of trust in the free enterprise system (Richardson and McCord, 2004); thus trust is also an essential attribute of an ethical organizational culture. Lack of trust is dysfunctional for the team, the firm, and the economic system.

However, there is a deep, darker side of the relationship value of trust. Trust involves telos, a sense of mutual agreement on purpose or ends, together with a working consensus on the means and practices guiding behaviors. This is good on a prima facie basis, but mutual agreement, even when reached, may not always be directed toward a good end or goal. Trust is instrumentally necessary for a gang of thieves as well as for a coterie of angels. Even when the intended end is accepted by all, there may be significant differences regarding acceptable means. For example a college faculty might agree that improving student retention is critically important, but disagree with the administration that going softer on grading is the way to accomplish this end.

Because of the need to establish and maintain trust, a leader needs subordinates to share her basic view of the appropriate manner of conduct for their respective assignments. A pragmatic, goal-oriented leader might trust more the subordinate who will go along than one who out of religious or other moral principles might have qualms or objections to what the leader believes is necessary for the job. Ethical integrity in the superior-subordinate relationship is fostered when the subordinate has the personal integrity and the relational support to question or even challenge the boss (Follett, 1987), rather than when honing to “whatever the boss says is right” (essentially the Nuremburg defense). For his part, the leader should refrain from “the 30,000 foot defense” recently attributed to former Enron and Worldcom Chairmen/CEOs claiming they were too far above the day-to-day actions of their subordinates, and thus not responsible for their unethical or illegal acts.

A pragmatic, goal-oriented leader might sooner trust the subordinate who loyally “goes along” rather than the one who raises objections to what the leader believes is needed for the task at hand. Even if the leader recognizes and basically respects the religious or other principled-source of the latter, are the likely frictions necessary or even acceptable? A strong transformational leader may even have difficulty recognizing or assessing the need for constraints that problematic naysayers represent.

Indeed, why should an achievement-focused leader rely upon or even employ a strongly principle-focused subordinate in a close working relationship?*  For example, when hiring a personal assistant, would not such a leader choose the more amenable applicant, the one who can be most trusted for personal loyalty, rather than the principled applicant, the one who might raise uncomfortable questions concerning the means the leader deems most expedient for succeeding in his personal and corporate agendas? Is there perhaps some hiring bias against the ethically-principled candidate?

*Alasdair MacIntyre might say no manager or leader could do otherwise because management is characteristically emotivist.

References:

Richardson, J. & L. McCord. 2000. “Trust in the marketplace.” In J. Richardson, ed. 2003. Annual Editions: Business Ethics 02/03. Guildford, CT: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, pp. 106-108.

Whetstone, J. T.  2003. “The language of managerial excellence: Virtues as understood and applied. Journal of Business Ethics. 44(3), pp. 343-357.

This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.

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An Example of a Religious Worldview

Every human person has a worldview, which is the framework according to how one views and thinks about the world. This leads to differing approaches to art, music, literature, politics, and business and economics, indeed to all spheres of life. A person can apply his worldview understanding as he learns to address world realities in a variety of ways, applying empiricism, reason, intuition, and faith (Curtis, 2000). Most basically, a person’s worldview should outline how one relates to God, to other people, and to the world (Kuyper, 1931).

Previous blogs claim that a leader, whether as a parent, in the community, or in the workplace, influences the worldview and values of those with whom he interrelates. A responsible leader thus should take care to offer morally sound lessons and consistently to set a positive, constructive example. He or she should also seek to understand the basic worldview thinking of his superiors, peers, and subordinates—to understand them better and to appreciate from where they are coming.

This is not always an easy challenge to meet. People throughout our world, and within today’s diverse organizations, are influenced by their religious and cultural traditions and experiences. They may maintain many differing worldview perspectives. Moreover, worldview thinking is dynamic; worldview paradigms shift and individuals can continue to modify their personal worldview perspectives throughout their lives. As a start, the leader might attempt to understand the basics of some common, contemporary worldview paradigms that might be influencing those with whom he relates.

This and following blogs will outline some of the basic underlying presuppositions of several worldview paradigms. The first is that of biblical Christianity, an example of a worldview grounded in what some would describe as a religiously-grounded perspective. Other religions can lead to differing worldview perspectives. Whereas all worldviews presume something about our relation to God, some take a non-religious or secular stance. Examples of so-called secular worldviews will follow in future blogs.

                                                       A Christian Worldview

Our relationship to God:

God is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and holy. He created all things out of nothing and continues to guide all things by His sovereign providence. He created man (male and female) in His own image. God is both transcendent and immanent; He is the Ruler of the universe and totally distinct from created beings, yet He enters into immediate fellowship with human creatures as the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has appointed people as His stewards over creation and requires worship and obedience to His moral law, which He established for the benefit of His creatures. God is both loving and just. God commands us to love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

All humans are sinners against God, violating His commandments and justly deserving eternal punishment. But God is merciful and graciously provides eternal salvation and fellowship to those to whom He gives faith in Jesus Christ and His vicarious atonement. Each one whom God calls and regenerates as a born again believer is continually sanctified by His word and the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, growing toward God’s standard of holiness. This sanctification applies to the whole person, although it is imperfect in this life as the lusts of the flesh and corruption of the mind continue to war against the indwelling Spirit.

Our relationship to other people:

Every human is a created being, always distinct from God the Creator, and limited in knowledge and power. People differ in character, talent, and skills, but all are equal before God in dignity and status (priesthood of all believers). Because God created humans in His own image, people should always treat every person with dignity and respect. Every human sins, even regenerate Christians who are no longer slaves to sin. God commands people to love others, without approving of their sins.

Our relationship to the world:

People are to honor the world because it is God’s creation. The Fall has corrupted all created things, but His creation is still good. By His common grace, God sustains His creation and constrains the full effects of the Fall, assigning and enabling humans to cultivate, rule, and advance civilization as His stewards.

References:

Curtis, E. M. (2000). Transformed Thinking: Loving God All Your Mind. Franklin, TN: JKO.

Kuyper, A. (1931). Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

Readers are encouraged to comment and contribute worldviews grounded in other religious traditions.

This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.

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Leaders and the Worldviews of Followers

A good leader needs to have a sound worldview, one that is open, comprehensive of all reality, and internally coherent (Walsh & Middleton, 1984). She can continue to refine her worldview throughout her lifetime, and probably will. Early experiences are especially formative. Parents and teachers can and should have major impact on molding their charges’ worldview.

Christian_Worldview

An organizational leader, especially one’s first supervisor, often has a significant influence on the worldview of his followers, whether the leader realizes this or not. He needs to set a positive, constructive example and to offer morally sound lessons. For example, followers quickly imitate the stance the leader takes toward other people. When the leader shows respect for all, others tend to do likewise; on the other hand, when he speaks derogatorily to or about other ethnic groups, his followers might absorb a negative bias about its members’ beliefs, values, and needs.

Moreover, a good leader learns to recognize the worldviews of his followers.  Even if she does not agree with every assumption they hold, she must still respect the dignity and worth of others. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult to lead well.

For this, a leader needs a basic understanding of the major aspects of different worldviews that most commonly occur among his employees and others to whom he relates within the organizational context. Of course, there are many differing worldviews. Many are grounded in a religion, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. Secular worldviews prevalent in today’s world include modernism and postmodernism. Often people have de facto worldviews that incorporate some combination of religious and secular ways of thinking. Subsequent blog posts will outline a few prevalent worldviews to show where they are likely to conflict.

A leader has no right to impose a complete set of worldview assumptions upon others, but can still help her followers and others better understand and mold their own worldviews. There may not be a set formula or process for this, because this facet of leadership is more art than science. Nevertheless, the leader can promote character development in others through personal example, mentoring, and challenging assignments–and thereby influence their worldviews constructively. This seems to be a legitimate, ethical responsibility for any good leader.

This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013).Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.

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World View

a practical Christian alternative to the growing variety of books on spirituality and leadership.

a practical Christian alternative to the growing variety of books on spirituality and leadership

A leader, indeed every rational person, thinks and acts according to his or her worldview—a way of thinking about the world. A worldview is a perceptual framework—not a philosophy, theology, or a system. Each person’s values or what he or she wishes to occur are derived from worldview presuppositions.

Everyone has a worldview, although some may not acknowledge it. One’s upbringing, relationships, and the prevailing culture significantly influence an individual’s worldview. People whose worldviews differ can have difficulties with communicating and understanding one another and in perceiving what is real. They can even have conflicts as to what matters most.

A favorite story (true) of this blogger indicates how powerful a worldview can be. Alben Barkley, one-time Vice President of the United States under Harry Truman, was the keynote speaker at the 1956 Washington & Lee University Mock Convention in Lexington, Virginia. 

He declared,

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (quoting Psalm 84:10b). He immediately fell dead at the podium. Confusion broke out at the convention, but Vice President Barkley ended his life by expressing the worldview that grounded his honorable leadership.

Future blogs will further examine world view thinking.

Comments will be welcomed.

>>This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.

Purchase:http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Products/SKU-000641049/Leadership-Ethics–Spirituality.aspx