Someone I know and like very much just got turfed out of a high position. It was not that he was bad at doing his job. He made the error of challenging the unethical machinations of his managing director. Such mistakes can be fatal to your career trajectory.
The thing you never think too hard about when studying for a certain profession, is ethics. In Canada, members of the Law Association have been approached about their personal ethics by social justice activists. They have been pressed to sign a posted statement of beliefs on certain social justice issues on the threat they may lose their license to practise if they refuse. It is an unethical push, because they are not free to choose their own ethics. So it goes, even in a profession where your reputation must be impeccable, you are being compromised in matters of conscience.
No one should be surprised that they may find the worst breaches of ethics in the workplace, even the corporate workplace. Very little experience will show you that politics is king, and that smart people “play the game” as it were.
I have seen the very worst treatment of other human beings dished out in the world of business. There, terrible things are whitewashed with the idea that is it ‘just business’, after all. Don’t count the bodies because the bodies don’t count as much as the bottom line. That would include some rather pedestrian practises such as layoffs that occur on Christmas Eve so as to clear the books for the New Year, all the way down to outright breaches of labour law. They can afford bigger lawyers than you, and they can outlast you. Hence, the first knee-jerk transaction for companies, is whatever they think they can get away with, because they calculate you are not going to roll the dice against them.
Then there is the clandestine world of those trolls who see all of this, and pile on with the worst of behaviour. This includes sleeping their way up, to the usual kind of backstabbing and personal malice, all cloaked in passive-aggressive virtue as some kind of nod to the workplace. The rat pack has identified an enemy who must be eliminated, and of course it is all about work, nothing personal at all.
I have been part of a three-way team, where the other two were the team lead, and the one sleeping with the team lead. Now that can get ugly. The team lead and his female toady (both married to other people) would disappear for long lunches and come back looking flushed and happy. She would get a bounce in her step, and she would get stroppy with me and a lot of other people. Kneel and kiss the ring, or I am going to make you wish you were never born. When that all blew up, the leader bounced me from his team without making explanation, as a statement of his displeasure. It was a way to try to make me look bad in front of the rest of the company, so that he could continue his career of hiring young women, and fishing off the dock with impunity.
There is also simply the matter of internal jealousies. One of my worst mistakes was to disclose to another freelancer the rate I was charging. When he found I was making significantly more than him, he made it his business to try to sandbag me at every turn. It was an ugly chapter in my career history, but fortunately for all, history is long and it always tells the truth in the end. That certain character toned down a bit once his maleficence bloomed to full fruition in his personal life. When he was dealing with assault charges from beating on his live-in and her kid at home, it took the starch out of his sails at work. His appetite for causing trouble calmed down a bit.
Meanwhile, I have had to make some decisions in my career, and one of those was that I would always be ethical and treat other people in the manner I would like to be treated, paying no attention to job title, or whether it would benefit me personally. I am not alone. There is a vast sea of people out there I have brushed shoulders with who are wonderful, and very talented. They fly under the radar when politics rears its ugly head and that is part of why I like them. I think we comprise the silent majority. Like any slice of life, there is a great barrel of apples with a few rotten ones thrown in.
For those who like to read, there are certain books that you should read in a lifetime. One is “The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli, a sixteenth century Italian ruler. His little tome has resonated throughout history because it just found so much traction in the real world. If you read “The Prince” you will find that it is a primer for how to get ahead, by the most unethical means possible.
His advice asserts that it is acceptable for a ruler to deceive his people, that cruelty is reasonable, that Christianity is a bad influence, that it was good to be feared and that the ends always justifies the means. It sounds almost like the modern workplace and how it often operates. It also sounds like government once you peel back the thin veneer of outer appearances.
None of this should surprise anybody. As a Christian, I am well aware of “The Prince” from the Bible. He is of course, Christ’s adversary and the accuser of mankind. He is most often referred to as “prince of the power of the air”. If you see evil flourish in high places, don’t be surprised at all. In Ephesians chapter six, Saint Paul advises, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus openly admits that the power structures of this world as we know it, are at present, under the evil machinations of the “Prince of the Power of the Air” that is to say, the present governor of how things shake down in the here and now. This is evident in the scenario where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. The “Prince” offered him all manner of earthly delights under his control if Jesus would but bend the knee and worship him. In that scenario, you see the basics of how people sell their souls for short-term gain.
Not to be dismayed. In the beginning of Ephesians chapter six, Paul also advises us to look at things a little differently. The world is a skewed place, at least for now. Evil often appears to win out. Paul tells us therefore to do all of our work as unto Christ, not as man pleasers. That is the best arrangement possible I think, until Christ returns to judge all that the world has turned into.
Like Bob Dylan said, “you gotta serve somebody”. I think I decided long ago that I am not working for “The Man”, I am working for the Son of Man, and that makes all the difference.