How ethically are people likely to act?

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What makes people act the way they do?

Is it the organisational culture around them? The people in their team? Their own values?

The 10/40/40/10 principle suggests that in any group 10% will take advantage if they see the risks as being low.

40% will go along with the group.

40% will try and figure out what the organisation is trying to achieve and do it.

10% will push for their personal beliefs and values.

This breakdown is apparently based on Lockheed Martin research, but it’s not clear whether there are any substantive studies that confirm this – it might just be a convenient rule of thumb that matches the 80/20 principle.

The point is that people are complicated – and the situation they are in will influence how they act.

For example, once we know that this is the expected breakdown, will we do the same as before?

Is it possible that awareness might cause us to change the decisions we take?

Or take a thought experiment.

Let’s say we’re in a ship that ran into trouble and everyone had to abandon ship and get into lifeboats.

We’re in the boat with six others and there is still one person in the water.

The leader says that as all of us are now in, and there is enough food and water for the group, the best option is to leave the last person in the water.

That way all of us can survive.

What would you do?

Perhaps we’d like to think that we’d stand up to the leader and insist on helping.

Or we might follow the group.

But many would be appalled at the idea of leaving one struggling person in the water.

But, when we take that principle up a few levels, to the question of a country and how it treats refugees, how do our thoughts and actions change?

What is clear is that as a species, humans are biologically and socially inclined to go with the group – for better or worse.

Which makes it all the more important for individuals to try and have a mind of their own.

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