Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Greed: The Test

“Greed is

Made famous in the film, “Wall Street,”
most of us have taken this aphorism to

Don’t believe it?


Well, why don't we test the

Get a pad and a pencil, and track your
conversations for the next two days. After each
conversation with anyone about anything, write down a
one word summary. Ask yourself, “What was that
conversation about?” For example, was it about
relationships, caring, helping, sharing, loving,
commitment, inner peace, or was it about money, ways to
make money, things to buy with money, what we’d buy if
we had more money, problems we’re having with those
things we bought with money, other things we want when
we get more money, how our job sucks because it doesn’t
pay enough money, the next business deal that translates
into money, investments, deals, or consumption in some

Do it. Start tomorrow morning.

no cheating.

Don’t have conversations that would
not have occurred but for this little test. No extra “I
love you;” no telephone calls to friends just to say
“hi, how are you doing,” if they would not have been
made but for your tracking topics, and any chat about
world affairs, the focus of which is economic impact,
must firmly be put in the “M” column. The same goes for
talk about money for the wife, hubby, and kiddos. Money
is money, and donative intent doesn’t change the
subject, and shouldn’t, if only because there is no
credible evidence that the wee-ones will be any happier
wearing clothes from Baby Gap, or that mama will have a
permanent smile tattooed on her face because you bought
her a BMW.

The irony, of course, is that when
asked, most people say that family, friends, and faith
are most important in their lives. I know this to be
true. In my talks on Credible Connections in the
workplace, I have asked the question to thousands of
managers and most are quick to distance themselves from
How about you? If asked, “What are the three
most important things in your life,” how would you
respond? Do money and things money will buy make your
Top 3 list? If you are like most people, they don’t.
After all, it is so crass to say -- “Money is Numero
Uno!” “I’m a greedbag and proud of it!” “Greed is good!”
Substantial anecdotal perspective leads me to believe
that “family,” “friends,” and “faith,” are what most
people say "matters." Not surprising, I guess, since
those responses make us sound like decent, caring,
loving people – the kind of people we are, or at least
would like others to believe we are, but mostly the way
we want to believe we are.

48 hours from now,
after your little test is over, ask the question again –
“What is most important in my life?” This time ask it
while looking in a mirror, because you will have to
explain to you just how it is you spend 90% (or more) of
your time talking about money, getting it, working for
it, saving it, spending it, investing it, desiring it,
fearing it, or losing it, when cash ostensibly ranks so
low on your purported list of life

Where does the workplace fit into all
of this? The workplace is the place where most of us
make the money that we focus on and talk about
incessantly. It is the place where employers pander to
greed, and where most employees lap it up like drunks on
free beer night. The workplace is the place where
employees are told they should be productive because it
will mean more money, and implicitly, that more money
will one day become enough money.

That is a lie,
of course. More never becomes enough. But it is an
essential lie that is the foundation of a co-dependent
relationship between employer and employee, one based on
a tacit agreement to stay locked in unconscious,
unhealthy patterns of conduct, where each relies on the
other to maintain their destructive behaviors and
addictions. This is why most employers and employees
don’t have relationships; rather, they have
entanglements, much like that of a co-dependent couple,
i.e., “You don’t say anything about my drinking, and I
won’t say anything about your spending.” Just like the
drunk and the spendthrift, workplace relationships, most
of them, are all about control and approval. The deal is
“if I allow you to sleepwalk through life, you won’t
wake me up either. You, the employee, will pretend that
your job is the most important thing in your life, that
you really care about our widgets, and we, the employer,
will pretend we care about you as human beings, even
though we both know it’s all about the

Bottom line? Until employers and
employees begin supporting each other rather than using
each other, we will continue the dysfunctional pattern.
Work will continue as a necessary evil for most
employees, the quid pro quo for the things they really
want, and most employers will continue to whine about
their employees not caring enough, or just doing enough
to get by.
Until we admit there are more important
goals in life than the money work provides, we will
continue to live the lie. Until we recognize that a job
needs to provide more than a paycheck and traditional
benefits, but also create functional, meaningful
relationships, work will continue to be the place we
have to go to pay the rent and live the fantasy of one
day having enough money to not have to work anymore. In
so doing, now is never good enough, and we spend our
lives hoping for a future that will never exist.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Truth Telling And The Semantics Of Lying

Truth-telling is much
murkier than many people would like to

Last week I discussed lying on résumés and
heard a lot of comments from people who were moral
absolutists about lying. They would never, they said,
lie about anything. I have decided to have a very large
poker game and invite them all. I will supply
refreshments; they need only bring lots of

"Well, that's different," they'd say.
"Bluffing is part of the game." It's true, but it is
only one area in which we not only expect, but respect,
the ability to lie to other people. We lie in other
ways. Every time we tell a joke, we create a situation
that most likely never happened. When we get someone to
a surprise party on a subterfuge, we lie. All of these
"lies" are acceptable.

And then there's the
clincher. What happens when your neighbor, being chased
by a homicidal maniac, comes and hides in your cellar?
If the maniac comes to the door demanding to know if
your neighbor is there, do you point out the hiding spot
behind the furnace -- or do you lie?

that's different," say the absolutists. And they can
come up with numerous rationalizations about why this is

The problem with absolutes, of course, is
that they are so -- well -- absolute. Absoluteness is
binary -- something either is or it isn't. Once you
introduce an exception, any exception -- whether it's
jokes, poker, or saving your neighbor's life -- and no
matter how well it's rationalized, you can no longer
claim an absolute position about lying.

This is
what makes the whole area of truth-telling much murkier
than many people would like to think it

Perhaps what we need to be looking at is
honesty, rather than whether we would ever say something
that isn't entirely the truth. When we play poker, I
expect you to be bluffing. And when you do, you're not
being dishonest with me, even though you're not
necessarily telling me the truth.

The same goes
for jokes, surprise parties, and all those other
instances where minor falsehoods smooth the way for
social interaction. When casual acquaintances ask "How
are you?" they are not looking for a recitation of your
aches and pains, your marital stress, and your conflicts
with your neighbors. They want you to say "Fine," even
if you aren't. If you don't, they're going to start
crossing the street when they see you

None of those impedes an honest
relationship between us. On the other hand, there are
instances where I could refrain from lying -- satisfying
the most scrupulous demands of the moral absolutists --
and yet purposely deceive you.

Suppose I'm
feeling lazy one day. I drive to the office and park my
car in the CEO's spot. Just before noon, I get a call
from the CEO's secretary saying I've been summoned. On
my way out, I toss my keys to a co-worker and tell him
to hurry down and move my car to the open parking lot.
When I arrive in his office five minutes later, the CEO
asks, "Is that your car parked in my spot?" I truthfully
can answer "No." Had he said "was" instead of "is," I
would have a different problem. So much depends on the
use of the word "is."

The bottom line is that any
of us can lie without deceiving and deceive without
actually. Which is more important?

[Courtesy of Rich McLarty]