April 27th, 2008 10:58 PM
Ethics of the Magnificent Seven
World's best western -- still teaching!
April 23, 2008
The Ethics of the Magnificent Seven
By Bob Stone
learned a key lesson about ethics by watching my all-time favorite movie over and over: "The Magnificent Seven," the 1960 flick with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach.
Yul Brynner plays Chris Adams, a gunfighter who is offered a pittance by a group of poor Mexican farmers to drive away the bandit Calvera (Eli Wallach), who has been plundering their village. The farmers explain that the tiny payment is everything of value in the village. Chris accepts, saying, "I've been offered a lot for my work, but never everything."
He assembles a powerful gang of seven outlaws, and they ride into Mexico. They hide in the village and come out shooting when Calvera shows up. Calvera and his plunderers ride off, and the Magnificent Seven think he's gone to plunder somewhere else and that they've done their job.
In today's column, Bob Stone—internationally known author and speaker on ethical leadership, leading change and reinventing government—takes us from difficult situations in the Wild West to everyday dilemmas in public service. Public officials would do well to circulate his guidelines on good conduct, which appear at the end of the column.
Since the vast majority of public officials are honest and well-intentioned, perhaps in a future column we should address how to identify ethical issues in advance, not after the press brings them to our attention. After all, honest individuals will make the right decisions as long as they recognize the implications of their actions.
Management Insights moderator Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, is the author of a new series of columns on America's innovative mayors being published on Governing.com.
But Calvera comes back. There's a famine in the area, and there's no place else to plunder. The Seven have gotten more than they bargained for.
The cowardly Harry (Brad Dexter) wants to bail out: "There comes a time to turn mother's picture to the wall and get out. The village will be no worse off than it was before we came."
Chris admonishes him: "You forget one thing — we took a contract."
Chris's sidekick, Vin (Steve McQueen), tries to mediate: "It's not the kind any court would enforce."
Chris is resolute: "That's just the kind you've got to keep."
What I learned from Chris is the distinction between law and ethics, laid out in 1924 by the British jurist Lord Moulton. Law requires obedience to the enforceable, while ethics requires obedience to the "unenforceable." William Roberts, who wrote the screenply for "The Magnificent Seven," put flesh onto Moulton's theory.
What is the "unenforceable" to which ethics demands obedience? For Chris Adams, it's his commitment. He had to keep his word, even though — or perhaps, in Chris' case, because — no court would require him to.
While Chris Adams was his own master, public servants serve two masters where ethics is concerned. They serve their city or state or county, which has its own code of ethics. The code is enforceable: Obey it or risk being fired, suspended or even prosecuted. But, at the same time they serve another, often more demanding, master: their inner selves with their own sets of unenforceables.
The Golden Rule, unenforceable as it is, is much more demanding than any code of ethics, public or private, that I've ever seen. In fact, most of us expect more of ourselves and of the people we lead than mere compliance with regulations.
So, what do we expect? If you're like me, you were never explicit — you just knew it when you saw it. But, in the course of writing a book on ethics, I had to write down my own personal set of unenforceables, and the act of making the list itself helped me to better identify my beliefs and sharpened my sense of what ethical behavior means. This is a basic truth about learning: When either we try to actively express something, orally or in writing, our brains are stressed to figure out logic and connections that we hadn't discovered yet. As William Faulkner said, "I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it."
Here's my list of unenforceables:
· Treat people the way I'd like to be treated (the Golden Rule).
· Play by the rules: Winners never cheat and cheaters never win.
· What's not mine is not mine.
· Keep my commitments.
· Do what's expected of me, even if I haven't said I would.
· Don't hurt people's feelings even if they deserve it.
· Expect more from myself than from others.
· Speak truth to power.
· Give fair value.
· The most important thing in life is a clear conscience.
You'll have a different set from mine — but only if you write it down. If you don't, you'll continue to manage your behavior instinctively, and I'll bet you'll miss some things — I sure did. But if you write down your list of unenforceables, you'll be able to share them with the people you lead and you'll be on the way to spreading them through your organization.
And watch the "The Magnificent Seven.
Former Army Infantry Captain; 25 yrs as an NRA Certified Instructor; Avid practitioner of the martial art: KLIK-PAO.
April 27th, 2008 11:04 PM
Good flick - one of the best westerns ever made in my opinion.
For those who do not know, the magnificent seven is a remake of the original by Akira Kurosawa: "The Seven Samurai" 1954
Amazon.com: Seven Samurai - 3 Disc Remastered Edition (Criterion Collection Spine # 2): Takashi Shimura,Toshirô Mifune,Yoshio Inaba,Seiji Miyaguchi,Minoru Chiaki,Daisuke Katô,Isao Kimura,Keiko Tsushima,Yukiko Shimazaki,Kamatari Fujiwara,Yoshio Kosugi
"Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must." - The Duke of Wellington
April 27th, 2008 11:18 PM
I like David Allen Coe's analogy. Let's say you and I are out robbing banks. I'm the driver of the getaway car. When you come running out of the bank with a pistol in one hand and a big bag of cash in the other, where do you expect me to be? Right in front of the bank! Why? Because it's my job! It's what I said I was going to do. We may be low life criminals, but you still expect me to hold up my end of the deal, right?
Last edited by Captain Crunch; April 28th, 2008 at 02:01 AM.
Reason: Deleted a Language workaround.
Law without force is impotent.
April 27th, 2008 11:28 PM
While I enjoy The Magnificent Seven, I prefer the original, The Seven Samurai.
Funny how many westerns have been based on Kurosawa's work.
April 28th, 2008 08:38 AM
That was a terrific post, but if I may take the liberty of adding one thing that I believe would also help make the world a much better and safer place, it is that never take from or accept anything that has been obtained from another through the use of "force or fraud." That comes from Ayn Rands philosophy, applies not only to people but to governments as well, and it is a primary ethical tenet by which my wife and I try to live our lives.
"It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."
J. R. R. Tolkien
April 28th, 2008 09:46 AM
if we still had those values as a nation, we would not be in the mess we are in right now, and Hillary and Barack would never have made it this far.....
"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined". - Patrick Henry
April 28th, 2008 01:26 PM
Excellent post, Ex!
Indeed, if "public servants" would follow such standards, we'd have avoided lots of scandals and missteps. Certainly, the current administration would be missing quite a few heads. Nixon and his crew would have been right out, just to mention a few.
Ethical behavior is ultimately an issue of personal honor. While it can be mandated by fiat, it's the individual who makes the difference.
"We're paratroopers. We're supposed to be surrounded!" Dick Winters
April 28th, 2008 05:09 PM
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