How You Can Be Choked By Societal Values

The Molding of Moral Decay


“My ambition when i was young was to be the greatest cheat and not be caught!”

Dr John ng

“Do not think lightly of evil, saying, ‘It will not come to me.’ By the constant fall of water drops, a pitcher is filled; likewise, the unwise person, accumulating evil little by little, becomes full of evil.”

Buddha, verse 121 of the Dhamnapada

Why has greatness fallen by the wayside? Chief among the reasons is a set of societal values that militates against greatness.

1. You Can Be Fascinated By Evil

Some of us admire people and worship leaders who reach the pinnacle of success through dubious means and are drawn inescapably to leaders whose characters are awed by low morals.

I can understand why. I came from such a background.

My parents used to own a grocery store in a crowded neighborhood near the Singapore General Hospital. Much of our income came from illegal gambling. I was brought up in a culture where cheating and deceit were part and parcel of my life.

When I was six, I learnt the craft of making money through illegal means. I remember selling ‘tikam-tikam’, a game where kids will buy slips of paper, with hidden prizes (sweets or cash). Their luck came from picking the right slip of paper with the prize in it. But I took out all those slips that had cash prizes to ensure that nobody would win but me. In this way, I would maximize my profit.

I went a step further in cheating. With those same prize-winning slips, I would go to a ‘mama store’ (Indian stall) and with the same ‘tikam-tikam’ pattern, would pretend to buy the ticket, make a quick switch, show my ticket and claim the cash prizes. By doing this, I won both ways: one from cheating my customers and the other from cheating stall owners. I never thought I was cheating. I thought I was the smartest six-year-old in the neighborhood! Further, when I told my brothers my evil scheme, they applauded my ingenuity!

That was how I was raised. And I always admired business people who could make more money in scheming and unscrupulous ways. My ambition when I was young was to be the greatest cheat and not be caught!

As Os Guinness, a visiting Fellow at Brookings Institute, writes, “So, we do not seem dismayed by evil heroes. Indeed, we have a streak of fascination for our fellow creatures with the audacity to transgress.”

2. You Tend to Focus on the Bottom Line

Another societal value that militates against greatness is, as Guinness writes, “as long as they deliver the results, character does not matter.” I know of friends, who are sales directors, working for corporate companies and Multinational Corporations. They would fudge their sales numbers or do forward sales bookings to achieve their bottom-line.

Recently, I returned from China and was told of some other ‘creative’ ways of reaching sales targets:

  • Shopping mall owners make cash payments for renovation work done to lure premier brand name companies to be anchor tenants. These companies would keep on expanding their stores without the accompanying sales volume to sustain their growth. In fact, they are loss-making companies, but in order to sustain their cash flow, the mall owners keep opening up more and more stores to obtain cash for renovation. They succeed in two ways: They give the false impression of profitability by their expansion and they get more cash to roll without making their sales targets.
  • Business owners create fake invoices by recording fabricated sales numbers in their books to boost the revenue figures, so that they can attract investors. In this age of capital markets, some businesses focus on making the books look great to attract capital rather than focusing on the actual effort of making their business good, productive and viable! With these inflated accounts, they then can borrow more from banks and private investors. Bank managers are part of this scheme as they are bribed to do so. They look good, the bank looks good, the bankers look good, the stall looks good, and the business owners look good. But it is all a bubble, waiting to burst.
  • Another creative technique is delayed or non-payment of goods. Business owners refuse or delay payments with their suppliers and vendors. They squeeze them for longer terms, though they know they have no means of payment. Lawsuits are common. Courts are so overwhelmed with cases that they take years to review the case. So, for many of them, going to the courts is a lost cause. They would have been bankrupted by the time the case is finally heard. Worse still, judges are bribable as well.

Even worse, many of these business owners have no qualms continuing such practices, maintaining that this is ‘smart business’ and ‘creative negotiation’. In the meantime, they enrich themselves with extra bonuses, live the high life, and spend on personal items as though there is no tomorrow!

So, you applaud and buy into Gordon Gecko’s philosophy as portrayed in the movie Wall Street that “greed is good and greed is legal.”

3. You Prefer Short-termism

Short-termism has become the norm today. Dan Vasella, former CEO of healthcare company Novartis, in an interview with Fortune, calls it the “tyranny of quarterly earnings”. He admits, “Failure, or the prospect of failure is what keeps CEOs up all night. But I would argue that there is another, less talked-about risk that may be more treacherous in the end. That is success. Or rather short-term success — what chief executives and Wall Street analysts call ‘making the quarter.’ The idea of delivering quarterly results becomes an intoxicating one.”

It is this preoccupation with short-term success that can hamper long-term performance and lead you to manipulation.

He asserts, “There is nothing inherently wrong with delivering results — quarter by quarter… but the tyranny of the quarterly earnings is a slippery thing… Once you get under the domination of making the quarter — even unwittingly — you start to compromise on the gray areas, that wide swathe of terrain between the top and bottom lines.”

There are more ways you can be choked by societal values in my latest book, Unleashing the Greatness in You. There, I also share some of my insightful experiences to help you unleash your greatness through the power of self-leadership. Go ahead and get yours today.

Dr John

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