The comments of the attorney representing one of the convicted felons out of the Enron trial today indicates that the defense teams really believe in the innocence of the defendants. Sure, it could be courthouse-step posturing, and as someone once said, the prisons are full of people who swear they’re innocent. But in the past few years, the dirty white collars bring a whole new dimension to the question of guilt and innocence or right and wrong — because many of the convicted, and us, may no longer know the difference between them.
Here’s a theory: the path to power and finally achieving it may require a drive that obliterates the distractions of accountability. A blindness. Power and financial dominance — and all the things that go with them — require such a focus and on their own are so valuable and important in business and our society, every other priority pales in comparison.
This is no longer infuriating. It’s just sad. I feel great sadness when I read and hear the rationalizations and justifications and look forward to more accounts of understanding, contrition and perspective about what is really important in this world. And over the long term, I want to hear what someone has learned from his fall from grace and what he will do with that knowledge.
To be civilized means to be civil — to be real and clear about how our own actions, and inaction, contribute to the blurring of boundaries that end up hurting someone, somewhere. As much as this is a nation of laws, it still comes down to each person facing the consequences of behavior — atoning for the negative while reinforcing the positive. It’s not just about black-letter law. Every exec of an under-performing company who rationalizes his or her way into thinking that a $30 million salary is justified — every board and every HR consultant who spins a salary of that magnitude as something of value to shareholders — is lying not just to the world but to themselves. This is what is so sad: they don’t even know it. And while the rest of us might not know it, either, I believe we can learn it all over again. We just have to get real.