‘The Lucifer effect’
"How Good People Turn Evil" is the title of a thought-provoking address by former CNN staff member and ABS-CBN network chief Maria Ressa. Coverage of former AFP chief of staff Angelo Reyes suicide, overshadowed the talk. Here are excerpts:
“Col. George Rabusa ripped open a Pandora's box of corruption that implicated three former military chiefs-of-staff. He is expected to reveal more including implicating former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.”
(A parallel problem festers) in “corruption between medical representatives and doctors – as insidious a problem as corruption in media. (Discussions) offer these insights: Corrupt people don't think they're corrupt…. And getting there starts with one small step across a line, as Malcolm Gladwell says in his book “The Tipping Point.”
“The succeeding steps become easier. So, draw a line in the sand. Do not cross it. Once you do, it's a slippery slope.”
Media corruption is a fact of life. Politicians to company officers are flabbergasted by the number of journalists on their payrolls. They're afraid if they don't pay, they’d be attacked.
If they pay, they control what's written or said about them. Idealistic young journalists get disillusioned, since many of their elders are doing it. So the cycle feeds itself.
It starts with envelopes of money in press conferences. We stated our position against “envelopmental journalism.” Strangely, colleagues were critical of us for raining on their parade. Clean journalists were ostracized.
Our cultural values do not extend to making others ashamed to be corrupt. "I have no right to take that money away from his kids," a friend explained.
The more you say no, the easier it becomes. The more you do the right thing, the harder it is to do the wrong thing. It's a tipping point approach to building your identity.
(For me) the tipping point happened in the mid 90's. The fiancée of a close friend offered $150,000 for a CNN story. A direct bank deposit wouldn't be traceable, he assured me.
But reality stepped in. I drew the line then.
The Stanford Prison Experiment put ordinary students into a mock prison, some as guards, others as prisoners. In less than a week, the guards became increasingly sadistic and the `prisoners' pathological. Philip Zimbardo analyzes this “Lucifer Effect” in his book: “How Good People Turn Evil.” His contexts were abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons.
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It shows how situations – or culture – can make good people do bad things because they conform, comply, obey or are seduced by circumstances. They justify. They rationalize. (It) explains many things about Philippine society: endemic corruption, election violence, the Maguindanao massacre.
The second part of evil is “using one's authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf." That means you can’t pretend you don't see evil done when you have the ability to stop it. It's a culture we need to create.
A head of ABS/CBN news, I tried to have practice hew to ideals. Our Standards and Ethics Manual took a zero tolerance approach to corruption Instead of accepting offers, our people started reporting them One employee reported an offer for about P12 million for stories on one issue
Months before the May 2010 elections, candidates offered sizeable monthly ATM deposits in exchange for stories. Stop or we’d do stories about their bribery attempts, we told candidates.
“If we didn’t do this, journalists would write against us. We're only protecting ourselves,” they said. One talked about having to run a covert media campaign and asked for help finding someone who could run black ops.
Zimbardo's defines evil in one sentence: Evil is "knowing better but doing worse." This is relevant to controversial relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and doctors who accept free trips, junkets, expensive gifts and favors.
"Everyone is doing it,” doctors rationalize. "The budget is there anyway." I like this one – "I don't have to do what they want anyway." I've heard the same excuses from journalists who accept bribes – and encourage others to do the same. It's like a virus that spreads.
Corruption cuts across both industries. The question is: What are you willing to do to get what you want? Where do you draw the line that you will never cross? How do you define your own individual battle for integrity?
The tipping point starts with each individual. Then it goes to your company. Merck's mission statement declares: “In discharging our responsibilities, we do not take professional or ethical shortcuts. Our interactions with all segments of society must be transparent and reflect the high standards we profess."
Do medical representatives and doctors abide by these values? If you do, how do you fight against those who take shortcuts, who are unethical, who do evil?
Here are four ideas that have helped us find the courage to do what's right: (1) Be excellent at what you do. Work hard. Everything begins there. (2) Be self-aware. Ask the tough questions and give honest answers. Be aware of how your actions affect others.
Then (3) Take responsibility for what you say and what you do. Will you act this way if everyone can see what you're doing? Statements like "only following orders" or "everyone else was doing it" abdicates responsibility. Remember, how you behave is completely under your control.
Finally (4) Find your allies. Once you find the courage to say no and take responsibility for your actions, you reverse the tipping point for evil and begin to tilt the balance the other way. Fight the group that will drag you down. Find the group that will raise you up. You'll need help.*
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