What is the opposite of right?

In one of my all-time favorite Doonesbury strips, convicted financier Phil Slackmeyer is asked by a prison minister, as part of ethics training: “What is the opposite of wrong?” His response: “Poor.”

But I wouldn’t say the opposite of right is “rich.” More often, it is “rushed.”

The connection between being rushed and being wrong was powerfully established in a famous experiment conducted in the 1970s, in which seminarians on their way to an appointment for which they were operating under different degrees of supposed time urgency were confronted by an individual seemingly in distress. As described here: “Researchers were interested in determining if their imposed time pressure affected the seminarians’ response to a distressed stranger. Remarkably, only 10% of the students in the high-hurry situation stopped to help the victim. 45% of the students in the intermediate-hurry and 63% of the students in the low-hurry situations helped the victim.”

The notion of rushing a decision to override ethical considerations will be familiar to both  C&E officers and criminal lawyers. It is also part of the realm of political decision making, as is currently being illustrated by the attempt in Congress to push through the passage of health care law revisions so hurriedly that there is no time to consider the impact of these on the well-being of millions of men, women and children.

As citizens, we should resist attempts to rush through legislation that hinders ethical consideration in the way that being in the “high hurry” category did for the seminarians. And as C&E professionals, we should understand and seek to address rush as a form of risk.

Among other things, this entails:

– taking rushed conditions into account when constructing and implementing risk assessments;

– addressing in training and other communications the ethical peril of hurried decision making; and

– attempting to build due deliberation into key decision making structures – which can often be done by making the decisions group, as opposed to individual, matters.

Finally, companies should make sure the C&E officer has a “seat at the table” for important business decisions, from which – to shift metaphors mid-sentence – she can serve as a “brakeman” for situations where ethical considerations are likely to collide with the supposed urgency of the moment.

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