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Even with the smallest of actions, Gregor was all about conscience. During his long runs in the countryside, for example, he would pick up trash alongside the road.
I keep asking Gregor's spirit what he would say to people who feel stuck between the rock of their paychecks and the hard place of their consciences. He would likely answer with a simple statement: "You already know what to do. Find others in the company who think as you do. And if you can't find them, and if you can't look at yourself, you must leave and make your own thing. Do it better."
Forcing people to look at their own ethical balancing acts was part of Gregor's MO. "He had a sixth sense for finding good people," Hollender observes, "and just as acute a sense for those still struggling with their own evil."
I don't have any easy answers, and am still working out my own balancing act. But there's one thing I do know: we can't stop thinking about our own ethical tradeoffs and how we cope with conflicted feelings about our work. When I get asked to take on a freelancing assignment, I need to do due diligence on the client and the firms I'm being asked to write about. I've learned, through my own hard experience, that this is important if I am to live with myself. And sometimes I just have to pass.
In the end, maybe it's more about finding the right metric, one we can feel good about as we try to define our legacy to the world and ourselves.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, during his battle with cancer, helped answer his own ethical questions by looking inward. At the end of his Harvard Business Review article, "How Will You Measure Your Life?," he wrote, "I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I've had a substantial impact. But as I've confronted this disease, it's been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I've concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn't dollars but the individual people whose lives I've touched."
Even if we aren't celebrated Harvard professors, the work we all do daily touches hundreds, thousands, or millions of people, directly and indirectly. We touch them through our actions and non-actions, and through the actions and non-actions of our employers.
At the end of the day, we all need to think about how we measure our lives in the context of our work. We need to ask, as honestly as we can, whether our work is making the world better or worse. Choosing to say no to plunder and greed isn't easy, but at the end of one's life it will probably feel like the right decision.