The Ethics of Individualism

Two days ago, I listened to a speech on ethics by an insurance expert – discussing recent cases of corporate foul play. One statement caught my ear: "If people have the opportunity to get away with something, they will", his modern interpretation of "Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely." In so many ways, I found alarm bells ringing in my picture of the future….

I used to think the adage about the corruptive forces of power talked of circles very distant from that of the common man. However, as the speaker continued, he made another very powerful observation: The challenge in world ethics is not so much about structures and rules, but about the tendencies of people to do what is right at times of great consequence.

Two serious questions came up in my mind:

(1) Why is it okay that we live in a world where we can simply assume that people, given the opportunity, will not make unethical choices?

(2) What would it take for people, when put in such a position and with responsibility, would choose the right thing to do?

I wonder how many of us actually agree with the speaker; regardless, it seems that there is some validity to his observations from the era that our world is currently within. I certainly hope that we will move towards a time when we can once again trust our fellow human beings to put their responsibilities before their wants.