Are knightly virtues practical in the world of business and finance?
Several months ago I was talking to the president of a publishing firm about modern ethics and the Code of Chivalry. He was intrigued, but when we got to the subject of knights in shining armor in the world of business, I could see his interest waning quickly. After a few moments, he said, “Chivalry is a great way to promote personal values, but those things really don’t apply to business.”
It wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered such attitudes among high-powered executives and financial gurus. A lot of people in the corporate world believe that if you want to succeed, you must check your morals at the front desk. Or, at least, that was true until recently.
Then, a paradigm shift rocked the corporate world. Over the course of two weeks in July the major stock indices plummeted, not because of terrorist attacks, woeful economic forecasts, massive layoffs or staggering inflation, but due to one factor: lack of faith. A string of scandals in companies which were once the bedrock of American enterprise revealed greed and corruption on the part of a few top executives, and suddenly the economic outlook was grim. On the week the Dow Jones average dropped nearly 300 points, NBC News conducted a poll which showed that 59 percent of investors had “no confidence whatsoever” in the stock market.
The tailspinning economy was a reminder that the knightly virtues play a crucial role in the world of business. Faith — which encompasses integrity, trust, fidelity and honesty — is not an attribute which can be embraced selectively. Employees must have faith in their managers and executives. Investors must have faith in the institutions which manage their money. Customers must have faith in the products and services they purchase. In an atmosphere of faithlessness, success and prosperity give way to suspicion and self-preservation.
To combat this lack of faith, the government has stepped in to legislate ethical behavior in corporate boardrooms and accounting firms. The economy seems to be on the upswing, but this recovery is clearly chilly and tentative. As other corporations work to put a positive spin on their past accounting “irregularities,” analysts keep a close eye open for harbingers of further economic turbulence. Faith based on rules or regulations is a weak, pale version of that which is based on reputation and honor.
Faith is necessary in every aspect of life — marriage, friendship, career and even personal attitude. A betrayal of faith is an uncomfortable and painful thing to deal with, and restoring faith can take a long time. This is why James Baldwin once observed, “The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” Faith, along with all the knightly virtues, must be a welcome partner in any healthy, growing business. And a business led by a knight in shining armor guided by the Code of Chivalry cannot help but succeed.
- Conversation With: Dr. Tobias Capwell (Arms and Armor Curator, Wallace Collection) - September 29, 2014
- Three Chivalry Lectures – October 14-16 - September 2, 2014
- Conversation With: Dr. Elizabeth Morrison (J. Paul Getty Museum “Chivalry in the Middle Ages”) - July 7, 2014