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Character matters, Part 4

Good character doesn’t just happen. It is learned, and tested as we communicate. We want to know those with whom we interact can be trusted—that we can predict they will be responsible and honest. Good character doesn’t require that you walk on water, but wise souls across the centuries have told us, as has Samuel Johnson: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” That’s what it means when we buy insurance for those who will live after us and that’s what it means when we make the rules that pull everyone up rather than keep them down. That’s what it means to not exploit the environment but to have environmental sustainability as our benchmark and when we make greed wrong.

The ethical roots of group dynamics aren’t just traceable to religious prescriptions, However much golf ethics can be linked, if you will recognize the pun, to group dynamics, they are not its roots. How should interact ethically in small groups and teams can be traced in some degree to the prescription of the great religions-- to love thy neighbor as thy self and as are spelled out by the five virtues described in the first section of this chapter love of truth, honesty, courage, fairness and wisdom. The ethics in group dynamics are rooted deeper than on good will and love of one’s neighbor. Rather they spring from the need to manage self-interest and greed. This to suggest that unhappiness with how one has been or might be mistreated motivates a group or community to formulate rules, regulations, and penalties. Management of group interest over self-interest in its simple terms is—making we, we, we more important than me, me, me.

Ecologist Garret Hardin, who warned of over-population, explained how self-interest can hurt in an article he titled The Tragedy of the Commons published in Science (1968). He reasoned that some individuals, in their desire to make more money can harm the whole. He employed a metaphor of the commons to make this point. The commons in 17th century England were generally well managed; however, problems arose when some folks sought to put more and more sheep to pasture in the commons, so much so that overgrazing hurt everyone around the commons. Across the centuries as populations have grown, fields have been cleared of trees, lands have been so plowed that vast areas eroded and dust storms followed, and oceans have been over-fished and polluted with garbage. Hardin has been proven right. “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all” is his short analysis of what happens without managing self-interest, perhaps, the more accurate term is selfish-interest. To prevent and stop our ruin of the commons, we must make the rules that set limits, or suffer.

Philosopher John Rawls is another who helps us see the need to set limits that will curb selfish-interest. He’s suggested that if we were to be blind to what the chance of birth deals us, we would make the rules fair. He called being blind to whether one will be born rich or poor, a the veil of ignorance; he said that would be , "...no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like."

Ideally a just society, as it makes its laws, sets aside considerations of such factors as gender, wealth, race, etc., but that isn’t the way it is. The hard fact is that “those that have the gold, makes the rules.” For decades, white males made the laws and headed the companies during the Industrial Revolution and even now with Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Facebook. It’s too rare when a woman is CEO of Hewlett Packard, Yahoo, IBM, GM and Pepsi. Members of the rule-making bodies in this nation rarely get there without millions given by the rich for campaigns to elect candidates who will favor them. Character copes with greed and persists to give voice to manage greed and make the rules aware of selfish interest. Is not this an application of the best that faith and doubt teach us?