Posted: March 23rd, 2023
The Rules By Which I Live
Looking back at my life when I first began to understand the basic rules governing human interaction, I believe that the Golden Rule has significantly shaped my moral compass. I have always aspired to treat others justly, even in situations that I do not expect to receive anything in return. Granted, it is indeed a lofty ideal and Sagan (1993) argued that it may not be a suitable long-term value by which to live. Nonetheless, my morality is also greatly influenced by religion. Through the Christian teaching, even evil is supposed to be repaid with good, and “killing them with kindness” is a more acceptable response than having a blind society based on “an eye for an eye” motto.
As Avatel (2010) proposes, I believe that responding with kindness in situations where kindness has been received and repaying a wrong with another wrong creates a vicious cycle of a vengeful society in which everyone is trying to get even the smallest assistance. On the contrary, having an excess of kindness can never be an adverse outcome, making the Golden Rule the best moral ideal of a society. Under those premises, my morality is especially appropriate in situations involving emotions and personal relationships, which Lauter (2001) insisted are different from a detached type of moral agency (p. 309). Hence, it is good to strike a balance in every situation before applying an appropriate rule.
However, I am not too naive to believe that the Golden Rule works or is desirable in all situations. Events and conditions exist that require a more nuanced approach, such as in business, national security and defense, and so on. In such circumstances, it would be foolish even to think that repaying a wrong with kindness would benefit a society. Sagan (1993, par. 15-19) explores this problem, arguing that a nation, for instance, should both cooperate and retaliate against other nations to protect its interests. More ruthless states would soon exploit any response to the detriment of an entire population. Similarly, a pat on the shoulder for a repeat offender is an unthinkable course of action in the eyes of the law.
The willingness to eliminate elements that threaten such an existence should be proactively cultivated to create a society where kindness and good will thrive. In fact, this description clearly illustrates my moral ideals, including in those situations which I feel that kindness as a response would have long-term positive outcomes, as well as those for which I support, which include removal of individuals or events that risk societal peace and stability. As Sagan (1993) proposed, all individuals should question themselves on what it truly means to do the right thing.
Tackling the conundrum faced by Red Corp requires asking whether it is appropriate to respond in kind when hurt by a friend or an enemy. In this case, the enemy is Blue Corp, and the fear that this opponent will most likely use the hacked information against the interests of Red Corp is legitimate. However, such action has not yet transpired, and Red Corp cannot accurately know if a sudden sense of morality would strike the competitor and opt not to use Red Corp’s information for under-bidding purposes.
Moreover, if Red Corp was to act on the leaked information to outbid Blue Corp, it would only be in anticipation that Blue Corp is guaranteed to take action but has not yet been affected by any repercussions of the detrimental decision. Furthermore, such action will undoubtedly destroy any good-will between the two companies. Therefore, Blue Corp will look for similar opportunities to retaliate in the future. The response establishes the possibility of creating a never-ending vendetta between the two corporations that would take their focus away from their core activities to devising strategies for destroying each other. Ultimately, the decision would ultimately be a lose-lose situation regardless of who made the first attack.
The circumstances of Red Corp’s knowledge and portfolio of options suggest that the Iron Rule described by Sagan (1993) as “do unto others what you like before they do it to you” (par. 8) can be viewed as the more reasonable action for Red Corp. However, the limitations of this viewpoint are that they cannot possibly know with certainty how Blue Corp will act when faced with the same challenge. In such a case, Red Corp cannot be entirely justified in exploiting the situation by arguing that Blue Corp would have acted similarly. While such a defense may exist in law, it is mostly applicable in the case of one’s life, where an alternative course of action would have proven fatal.
In making this decision, it is necessary for Red Corp to evaluate strategically the course of action that works best and minimizes harm to its interest while also remaining within the bounds of common business decency and ethics. Sagan (1993) indicates the decisions that would end up being detrimental to an entity in the long term, which would not be viewed as ethical, but rather, as foolish and ill-informed (par. 5). In such circumstances, the concern is whether Red Corp’s decision should be entirely moral or should be based on logical pragmatism. At this point, it is worth noting that establishing goodwill with the competitor is also a pragmatic consideration that is bound to have some long-term advantages.
Since both companies have an almost equal risk in the matter, perhaps the most ethical and pragmatic response to the challenge would be to approach Blue Corp and bring the company’s attention to the hacked information and its implications for the two companies. By relying on the simplicity of the Golden Rule, Red Corp would be doing onto Blue Corp what it would wish to happen if the circumstances were not in the company’s favor.
However, in making this decision, it is possible to argue that Red Corp has squandered a rare opportunity to overtake its main competitor by using the data for underbidding purposes. After all, Red Corp is a business, while one of its primary goals is to expand its market share and maximize profits for investors. Since Red Corp is not responsible for hacking the information, but came across it by accident. Hence, the most pragmatic course of action would be to prioritize the needs of investors and put the data into good use.
On the other hand, this move would violate basic business ethics. While any business intends to expand its operation and enhance its competitive advantage, it should not be ignorant of other factors, such as ethical business approaches and the importance of goodwill among stakeholders. Hence, this perspective further demonstrates the merits of the Golden Rule as the first course of action. Should things fail to unfold as expected, then Red Corp may apply Sagan’s (1993) Goldplated Rule as a remedy. It is worth noting that even businesses are required to observe common ethics regardless of their individual goals and objectives.
As Sagan (1993) proposes, a critical point to ponder about this dilemma is whether Blue Corp should respond in kind to Red Corp’s actions that have hurt the company’s business. In making this significant decision, it should also be imperative to determine if the company would have responded in kind if Blue Corp had decided not to use Red Corp’s customer information for self-gain. Therefore, the core of the dilemma is whether Blue Corp should follow the Golden Rule and do unto Red Corp as has been done to the company. On the other hand, the issue is whether the firm should use the same rule to restrain from doing activities that it would not wish to be done to its operations in return.
As things currently stand, Blue Corp is already experiencing the effects of being underbid and having its clients stolen. A restorative strategy is needed urgently to not only stop the further loosing of clients but to also win those that have already been stolen. Blue Corp requires its customers to realize the company’s key objective, which is to maximize benefits for all stakeholders. Should the company fail to reach this goal, it is acting to the detriment of investors, which is arguably unethical in itself. A more pragmatic response is thus necessary to restore the company’s customers to compete effectively.
Blue Corp could resort to the Golden Rule by repaying Red Corp’s underhanded actions with good intention and opt not to take a similar response. The concern, in this case, is whether the company has other means to recover from the loss of stolen clientele by Red Corp. If no recourse is available, then this course of action would significantly shortchange Blue Corp’s investors. It is also not sustainable in the long-term, especially if the company fails to recover from the loss and goes bankrupt. At this point, it appears that the most appropriate rule for Blue Corp is the Brazen Rule, which Sagan (1993, par. 7) describes as paying kindness with kindness and evil with justice. Blue Corp may argue that the competitor has already contravened this rule and should not expect any form of kindness in return. On the contrary, Red Corp could have broken some laws from the unauthorized use of another firm’s data that has been acquired illegally. Hacking and stealing any entity’s information is an offense; hence, Blue Corp may have some legal recourse for pursuing the offender.
A different form of justice would be attempting to use Red Corp’s data to acquire customers of its own from the company. Since the Brazen Rule is also an “eye for an eye” type of justice, retaliating by doing what the opponent has done may be acceptable. The move may not be entirely successful since Red Corp could have taken action to seal the loopholes, thus preventing Blue Corp from deriving any meaningful benefits of the leaked data. If such is the case, Blue Corp will have no alternative but to seek a different path, especially a legal one, to redeem the losses.
Given that Red Corp has just discovered the data exposure and either party has taken no detrimental action, the company is better positioned to make an ethical decision. Red Corp is not under any pressure to retaliate since Blue Corp is not yet aware of the issue. In such a case, the Golden Rule seems to be the most suitable for Red Corp since the firm’s approach will have significant bearing on the way Blue Corp responds when it becomes aware of the information leak. By informing Blue Corp about the hacking before exploiting the data, Red Corp would have placed a moral burden on Blue Corp to afford the competitor the same courtesy.
Should Blue Corp choose not to return the favor, then Red Corp would be empowered to seek legal redress as well as to use Blue Corp’s information to acquire customers. If the situation were different, for instance, if Red Corp had the evidence that Blue Corp would have opted to use the data secretly, a similar action would have been acceptable in this case. If a previous occurrence existed in which Blue Corp had acted unethically in similar circumstances, Red Corp would have been completely justified in using the former’s information.
A different rule was selected for Blue Corp’s ethical dilemma because the firm’s challenge involves a completely different set of circumstances from that faced by Red Corp. In the former’s case, the information use has already occurred. Hence the firm is entitled to consider a different type of response that could also be rapid retaliation.
A different situation would be if Red Corp approached the company for some form of negotiation to reach a middle ground. In this case, it would have been unwise for Blue Corp to choose a different action other than cooperating with Red Corp on not using the leaked data against each other.
As it is palpable from the case, opting out of such a mutually beneficial agreement would prove disastrous in the long run since Blue Corp would lose all the goodwill with its competitor and risk legal retaliation. The Iron Rule may be considered, but it would have no sustainable impact since repercussions would soon emerge when Red Corp becomes aware of the data leak and Blue Corp’s response. It is most likely that Red Corp would also use the information against Blue Corp, indicating that all gains made by the latter would be quickly reversed.
Therefore, the prisoner’s dilemma as described in Sagan’s (1993, par. 17) comes into play. Blue Corp has no idea how Red Corp would have reacted if faced with a similar situation. The only alternative would be to approach the opponent and seek some form of agreement. Both companies have more to gain if they choose to cooperate instead of using the data against each other. Therefore, this is akin to Sagan’s Goldplated Brazen Rule, in which cooperation is rewarded while defection is punished without the vicious cycle of vendetta responses.
Avatel. (2010). The Golden Rule. State’s Blog. Retrieved February 5 2019, from
Lauter. E. (2001). Reframing the ethics and aesthetics of judgment. Soundings: An interdisciplinary Journal, 84(3/4), 307-336.
Sagan, C. (1993). A new way to Think about the rule to live by. Parade Magazine.
Retrieved February 4 2019 from http://tetrahedral.blogspot.com/2011/12/carl-sagans-new-way-to-think-about.html
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