How much of how we act is a result of who we are, and how much of it is the result of social pressure exerted by those around us and thenorms and regulations imposed upon us?
Most of us like to consider ourselves ethical people. We like to believe that we would begood people, even if there weren’t any consequences for acting in ways that arecontrary to existing laws and norms. For example, I like to believe that Iwouldn’t purposefully hurt someone for the heck of it, even if it wasn’t againstthe law. But, in fact, I think we’ve all seen that this isn’t necessarily true.We often act and speak differently depending upon whom we’re with and where weare. People who make sexist or racist comments in private, but hold theirtongue in front of those they don’t know well or who would be offended.
This can also hold true when we travel, when we’re in aplace away from ‘our’ culture, norms that hold true at home may not apply.Think of men who travel to other countries to abuse children, and justify it byciting the normalcy of it in the place they are and the availability ofchildren. Or people who would hold their tongue in the US, but have no problemcalling entire cultures or countries ‘lazy’ or ‘incompetent’. I’ve noticed thatthe tendency towards disregarding criteria for acceptable behavior increaseswhen (some) people are traveling or working in the developing world. (I can’tspeak about whether this happens in the developed world as I have no experienceworking abroad there.) Somehow it’s suddenly acceptable to be more ‘ist’ ofevery sort. Whether this is because of the legacy of colonialism and whitemen’s superiority is still assumed to a greater extent or because thestereotype of the people in that place as less moral or less deserving ofcommonly held rights is difficult to say and not necessarily generalizableacross diverse contexts.
Alternatively, perhaps it’s that people with those attitudes are more likely to work abroad as participating in things like the diamondindustry are less likely offend their scruples. Or maybe my naïveté is showingagain, as assuming that people working in the developing world want to work toimprove things, when in fact they may be there with the explicit goal ofexploiting a country’s wealth of resources. So there’s the question, do morepeople ‘behave badly’ in developing countries, or do people with the desire todo so seek out those places where they are less likely to be criticized orostracized and in some cases are effectively above the law or local moralorder?
Is it being in Las Vegas or the fact that the city’s adcampaign tells you that you can do anything there because no one will tell the peoplethat respect you at home?
Happy Holidays and here's to positive situational and personal influences, and to the people who act morally and ethically even in their absence.