Monday, June 30, 2008

The Eye of a Needle

Last Friday's Financial Times brought us a new case study from Lucy Kellaway. This one concerns a man who is having a midlife crisis. Having worked in banking for 20 years he has begun to realize that he has reached something of a dead end. While others are advancing up the career ladder, he seems to be stuck.

Already something does not feel quite right. A reasonably perceptive individual will not need 20 years to see that he is being passed over for promotions. Evidently, this man does not especially care about whether he is advancing.

Now he is looking for explanations. And he has had something of an epiphany. He writes that he is "plagued with the idea" that he is not getting ahead because he has too much integrity. He is bitter because the bank runs seminars on integrity and does not promote the person who has the most... him. By his lights his more successful colleagues are "selfish." They lack "backbone" and "feel no guilt about their actions."

And yet, he adds, these selfish, spineless, guiltless people are "happier and better suited to professional life."

Here is a man who presents himself as a paragon of moral virtue, but who is surrounded by a band of ruthless psychopaths. Now he has realized that he is simply too good for the cut-throat world of London banking.

Is that what he means by integrity? At the least, his integrity seems to make it impossible for him to cooperate with others, to be a team player. And it does not allow him to respect his colleagues. Apparently, his integrity does not allow him to follow the basic ethical principles that govern workplace relationships. Thus, he sounds self-absorbed, self-righteous, and infatuated with his own moral superiority.

His integrity also precludes his competing. If he had possessed a normal quantity of ambition it would not have taken him 20 years to notice that he was not getting ahead.

If competition is the name of the game, then refusing to compete does not mean that you have too much integrity. It means that you want to play by your own rules.

Or perhaps this man has simply made a different choice. He believe that a rich man will have as much trouble getting into Heaven as a camel will have getting through the eye of a needle. He might have decided that it is more important to go to Heaven than to gain the key to the executive washroom.

That is his prerogative. Complaining about the consequences and expecting to be rewarded for it in the here-and-now are not.

Of course, he does not have to be very religious to believe that working in a bank is an affront to his integrity. He might simply believe that capitalism, commerce, and mortgages are corrupt and corrupting.

Consciously or unconsciously he may have chosen to fail. He may believe that success will threaten his immortal soul. Or else, that it might alienate him from people whose company and opinions he values.

1 comment:

Adam said...

“Cynicism may be a byproduct of anomie in the social structure; at the same time in may also prepare the way for personal anomie….

"Anxious over a personal failure, the individual… often disguises his feelings with a cynical attitude, and thus negates the prize he did not attain.

“Frequently he includes in his cynicism all persons who will seek that prize or have succeeded in winning it, and, occasionally deprecates the entire social system within which the failure occurred.

“As the cynic becomes increasingly pessin=mistic and misanthropic, he finds it easier to reduce his commitment to the social system and its values.”

~ Artie Niederhoffer.
The writer was a career New York City police officer.

From a simpler person's point of view, the complainer cited in the Financial Times works for a bank. The bank is most likely a publicly traded corporation.

He has an indivisible loyalty to the shareholders to work for their benefit. He's in breech of that trust, and thus his complaint is merely rationalized bad ethics.