When I Google the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of morality, it is described as “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour”. Personally I like a, reputed, quote from Oscar Wilde, “Morality, like art, means drawing a line somewhere”. Those who, like me, love the written word will note the vagueness of the word “somewhere” in combination with the definitiveness of “drawing a line”. I suspect that, for most of us, there is also a line to be drawn under our individual concepts of right and wrong. Furthermore that we’re aware of when we cross that line and don’t need an outside entity to keep us on the straight and narrow.
In addition, I hope, for most of us that that line remains fairly constant throughout the various areas of our lives. For example, I would tend to avoid lecturing people on the selfishness of not having children while remaining celibate myself. That’s not to say I don’t err because I do. What I also do, though, is know when I’ve done so while trying to keep within my own moral boundaries. I suspect that the way it is for most of us. After all, if it wasn’t, society would function even less well than it does at present. Moral values are probably the glue that keeps it all together. Indeed, I’m reminded, some years ago, of listening to an ex prisoner on the radio talking about life inside. Among the things he said was that, if those in prison really wanted to make life difficult for the staff, by sheer weight of numbers, they could probably do so. Yet, in the main, they didn’t. This, he felt, was largely due to the acceptance, by most of the prisoners, that they needed to pay for what they’d done. So moral values permeate even those places where you might least expect them to.
As you might anticipate, in my life in the voluntary sector, I usually found the moral compasses of those I worked with to be quite powerful. It is, after all, work where you don’t expect to earn a great deal of money but do expect to do something that helps others. The work involved an acceptance of certain unspoken conditions, much as, in other circumstances, it did for those prisoners. Now I may be a little naive but aren’t most of us like that? Importantly, should we be managing large or important organisations, if we’re not?