In some recent conversations with current and prospective clients, a recurring question appeared regarding some specific details of our business. The question was a fair one but after hearing it asked for the third time in unrelated conversations within a close timeline, I asked “why do you ask?” Apparently a competitive organization had been actively spreading false information on us and working to sow seeds of doubt on the character of our company. I wasn’t necessarily surprised but it made me wonder:
Is all fair in love and war?
In our hyper-competitive era, there can often seem to be a “no holds barred” approach to how business is conducted. Anything goes, right? This attitude is reinforced by a raucous media that often makes little effort to report facts and intentionally sensationalizes everything it possibly can to drive views, likes, shares, and ultimately revenue. We’ve become purveyors of half-truths and whole lies in our efforts to support our own interests.
The trend toward deception in whole or in part is reinforced by social media and the lightning speed of information sharing that quickly tramples any vetting in the cycle of “speak first and let others figure out the truth if they so desire.” If facts should emerge that counter the first point, we simply shrug and move on with the next point, shouting it a bit louder to push it past any counter point, true or otherwise.
Considering this environment begs the question: does truth matter or even exist? “My truth” versus “your truth” seems to be an acceptable point of disagreement and we continue to barrage one another with divergent versions of truth. Stepping back just a bit, one may begin to wonder about the old-fashioned notions of right and wrong. We seem to have become quite comfortable with shifting notions of what is right and what is wrong amid a blatantly indifferent moral relativism. The compass spins more and more with no obvious true-north and only our own desires to guide us.
What is virtue? Google tells us that it is “behavior showing high moral standards.” What are high moral standards? Aristotle took a stab at the notion by identifying 12 virtues:
We generally recognize the items on this list as good and proper traits though there is room for definition and the warping effects of personal interpretation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church embraces seven virtues, four Cardinal and three Theological:
The notion is that virtuous, or moral, behavior reflects proper management of oneself. The deeper point is that virtue is not relative or fluid, it is comprised of moral standards that are timeless.
In my earlier example, I referenced a competitor spreading falsehoods in an effort to improve their position. This behavior is a violation of the Cardinal virtue of justice which guides our interactions with others. A basic measure is the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. But even more basic is truthfulness – it is simply wrong to lie and the wrongness is magnified by its intent to harm someone else. We know this inherently yet we continue to make the choice in the hopes of achieving some end.
When did we stop worrying about virtue? When did our integrity take such a low place on our list of priorities? Of course, as human beings, this battle has been raging from the beginning. If we were all perfectly virtuous, no governments or laws would be necessary. However, it has become increasingly easy to justify less and less virtue in our words and actions as we view others as less or unworthy of our best. In this way, we also begin to think, and expect, less of ourselves.
In truth, all is not fair in love and war. Competition does not give you a license to lie. The ends do not justify the means. There are absolute measures of moral behavior. Even just a few moments spent considering the lists above can be convicting. Perhaps it’s time to begin talking about virtues again. We have become far too comfortable in the murky waters of rationalized words and dubiously justified actions. What we do and say matters. Even if it’s a “little” thing or when no one is watching. It matters.