The Spirit of Liberty – and Ethics and Compliance

Learned Hand – considered by many to be the greatest of all US judges – once famously said:  “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.”   This is a spirit which sadly seems as distant from us today as it ever has been before.

I believe that – at least for some companies – humility should be a core value.  (I do see it at some companies, but not many.)

First, humility is a logical and arguably inevitable response to the vast body of behavioral ethics research showing “we are not as ethical as we think.”  Thinking and acting with humility is indeed a way of operationalizing behavioral ethics. (Posts on behavioral ethics are cataloged in the index to this blog. https://conflictofinterestblog.com/2024/01/2024-behavioral-ethics-compliance-index.html

Second, humility is well suited for addressing ethical challenges that are based not on the purposeful failure to be honest but on the less well-appreciated dangers of being careless.  Recognizing the limits of one’s abilities – which is part of being humble – should help underscore the need for carefulness.

Third, humility has the potential to resonate deeply in our political, as well as business, culture. By this I mean humility can help form part of a broader mutually supporting relationship between business ethics and ethics in other realms.

Finally, humility can support relationships of trust. As described in a recent post, such relationships can be an essential foundation for prosperity in many ways.

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