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Why do we disagree? And how can we reglue society? 

By Shlomo Maital

     It does seem as if the world is falling apart.   Whole nations are coming part (Spain, perhaps Italy, Iraq, Syria). Within nations, divisive bitter arguments pit one family member against another.  

   But why? Why now?

   I think moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt (U. of Virginia) has a persuasive answer. *

     He was recently interviewed on US Public Radio (WBUR). He explained that he believes there are five core values, or moral principles, that are strongly believed in, in society. They are: Harm/care (avoid harming others, care when they hurt or suffer, be empathic); Fairness/reciprocity (be fair, give as you receive); In-group loyalty (be loyal and true to your specific ethnic/social group); authority/respect (honor and respect whoever is in charge); purity/sanctity (follow religious practice, hold certain things sacred).

     Politically: Those who are very liberal give very high importance to “care” and to “fair”.   (See graph above).   Those who are very conservative attach high importance to loyalty, authority and sanctity.

     What seems to be happening in the US is that the middle is emptying. The middle class is declining, as people sink in their income, or, in a few cases, grow wealthy. The middle in politics is also emptying. And underneath all this, the ‘middle’ in moral values is also emptying.

     Either we are liberal, and hold above all else the crucial importance of empathy and fairness (equal opportunity, equal wealth holding). Or we hold above all else the vital importance of loyalty, respect, sanctity.  

     If you wonder why very conservative Trump supporters continue to support him strongly despite his statements, falsehoods and incompetence, this graph explains it. Loyalty!  

       Are there inherent tradeoffs or conflicts among these key values? Or can we, by listening and explaining, integrate all these values into a coherent single whole, one that we can all live by,   liberal, moderate and conservative?  

       Barack Obama recently said, that if you get elected by dividing people, you won’t be able to govern them. That is true. America is essentially ungovernable, post-Trump.

     Can we find someone who gets elected by uniting people, around those five core values woven together?    

* Jonathan Haidt. “The new synthesis in moral psychology”. Science, May 18 2007, pp. 998-1000.

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Business Ethics: Oxymoron?

By Shlomo Maital

   ethics

    I’ve just written my fortnightly column for a magazine (Jerusalem Report), about how “plunder and blunder” ruined a first-rate supermarket chain, endangering the livelihood of 3,500 employees, as it goes into receivership and bankruptcy. The shareholders plundered the profits rather than reinvest them. Legal? Sure. Ethical? Far from it.

   Strategy guru Gary Hamel has a new book out, What Matters Now: How to Woin in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition and Unstoppable Innovation. You can download a long summary by doing a Google search on the title.

     Surprisingly, this is not a book about how to compete at all costs, in a jungle. It is about values and ethics. Hamel writes, “managers are the ethics teachers of the company. They define the defining moments and how to deal with them.” He cites the 5 responsibilities of stewardship: fealty (view things with trust, not personal gain); charity (put others’ interest before your own); prudence (safeguard the future, don’t take great advantage of others or the present); accountability (take responsibility for your actions); and equity (distribute rewards based on contribution, not on power). The managers of the Israeli supermarket chain, the Board of Directors and the shareholders did none of the above.

     Hamel goes on: “We need an ethics revolution in business.   In a 2010 Gallop study, only 15% of respondents rated the ethical standards of executives as high or very high. Nurses came in first at 81%. Corporate lobbyists, at 7%”.

     I know countless businesses that were ruined by ethical corner-cutting. I know of a high-tech exec, billionaire, who back-dated options to the benefit of his workers….and fled a court summons, and now lives with his family in a very poor country, not his own, because it has no extradition agreement.

     Are you going to be a values leader? Hamel asks,   or a values laggard? “Having a set of ethical principles can ensure that our enlightened self-interest doesn’t go unchecked and cause a meltdown within our company.”

     Sounds like a sermon in church or synagogue? It’s actually a powerful, crucial business lesson. We would all do well to heed it.

 

Touchstone School: “Magical Moments”

By Shlomo Maital

    Touchstone

My wife and I are visiting Touchstone Community School, here in Grafton, MA, about an hour from Boston.   In this and several following blogs, I would like to recount briefly some ‘magical moments’ I experienced there, in a pre-K to Grade 8 school where children do not take formal tests and where their imaginations and social skills are fostered.

   Background:   Thanks to the hospitality of Touchstone, I’ve brought a Chinese family from Shantou, Guangdong (where Technion has a joint venture program), to visit the school – Jin, my former Shantou U. student,   his wife Yuen, and 3-year-old daughter Yue, or Sophia.   Together we’re making a documentary film, hoping to bring the message of Touchstone’s “transformative schooling” back to China and to Israel.

  sophia and friend Sophia and her new friend…language is no barrier!

 

   Values: We joined a group of Grade 7-8 children discussing Touchstone core values. The class itself had earlier chosen core values:   all began with “C” — Confidence, curiosity, connection, creativity.   These values appeared on a ‘flag’ created by the children which included one square per child, where the square reflected the child’s own personality. This emphasis at Touchstone on being an individual is pervasive.

   I asked the students about rules.   If you have core values, and act on them, do you really need rules?   Rules are external, externally enforced; values are internal, internally enforced.   The discussion was interesting, the consensus was – values can replace rules.

   There followed a discussion about table arrangements.   Pairs? Fours?   One big square table?   The consensus was: One big table, more inclusive.   Inclusiveness is a school-wide core value. I suggested, maybe a oval or round table? But there is no such table at Touchstone. However, there is an oval carpet. Let’s sit around the carpet, the students suggested.   I came up with a round table that splits into four segments, so work in pairs and small teams can take place.   We need to have it built.

   One conversation at a time? This is an IDEO principle.   It is implemented in this class with Jupiter, a soft toy, tossed from one child (the speaker) to another (who raises their hands and wishes to speak).   One child was applauded, for actually catching Jupiter with one hand (apparently, a first! The students joked about it…not in a mocking manner).  

   I could not help but notice the huge developmental gap between the girls and the boys…the girls are way way ahead of the boys, which is common at this age.  

   There is a core issue here. Teachers who graduate from teachers’ colleges learn about the rules of pedagogy and the rules of schooling. They then implement those rules in the schools where they teach, and children learn about following an external set of rules, with punishments (and rewards, at times).   Children who follow rules well, do well in school. Rebellious kids don’t. But creativity demands rebellion. Are we eradicating it with our rule-based system?   Touchstone begins with values. Values are internal. Why not replace external rules with internal values? And make ‘confidence’, and ‘creativity’ core values?  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
June 2019
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