With all the mounting accusations of sexual misconduct by men in power, I have had several conversations in different countries — with men and women — that have made me pause. To date, there have been at least 40 well-known men singled out for their transgressions. In light of these headline stories, the three questions I have are:
- When and how does one (or not) pardon an ethical failure?
- Are ethics ever universal?
- How and why do ethics differ from one country to another?
How to gauge the accusations?
To the extent someone commits an act that isn’t illegal, but is ethically questionable, the justice system will not be the arbiter of a punishment or reprieve. How then should society operate? How should one’s friends and family behave? In my opinion, one ought to start by qualifying the different acts. To start, one must evaluate the level of transgression and not to put all acts in the same basket. The range goes from sexism to sexual harassment to sexual aggression/assault up to predatory behavior. None is acceptable, but the scale is important (as any regular corporate training will establish). Secondly, one needs to establish the context, which includes looking at the time/era and cultural environment. Thirdly, for the less serious acts (sexist/sexual harassment), was it one-off or repetitive? Continue reading