Philosophical approaches in ethical decisions

The first course I took in my MBA was Business Ethics. One of the biggest lessons that I took from the course is that there are essentially three philosophies in ethical decisions

  1. Focus on Consequences (Consequentialist Theories): With this approach, decision makers focus more on the possible consequences. In other words, the ends matter more than the means
  2. Focus on Principles, Duties (Deontological Theories): with this approach, principles and abstract values matter the most in decision making. The question of “what is the right thing to do here?” is a major consideration
  3. Focus on Integrity (Virtue ethics): this approach focuses on the person trying to be a good person more than the act

Recently, there have been an increasing number of disputes between China and American businesses. American companies have to cave to pressure from the Chinese government when it comes to sensitive issues related to their sovereignty and politics. For instance, Apple hides the Taiwanese flag when users are in Hong Kong or Macau, and pulls the app that supports the protest in Hong Kong from App Store, even though it originally approved the app.

China is a huge market for Apple and houses the majority of its supply chain. In the beginning, they tried to do the right thing. Eventually, Tim Cook and the management team prioritized the consequences of his decision, thinking about the impact on the company’s financials, shareholders and to some extent his own bonus, I think.

I don’t think it’s clear cut to say an approach is right or wrong. It varies from one person to another, from one system of values to another. Personally, I would prefer seeing Apple keep the app on the App Store, but I understand the decision as well as I understand the decisions taken by other companies under China’s pressure.

Disclaimer: I own Apple’s stocks in my portfolio

Inferiority and Superiority Complexes

The dynamic between inferiority and superiority complexes has been on my mind for quite some time, but the book “the courage of being disliked” articulates it better than I ever could. I cannot recommend this book enough. It can be a life changer. Read it if you have time and want to have a better life.

Everyone has the feeling of inferiority, one way or another. There is nothing wrong with it. It is desirable that one uses the feeling of inferiority to drive actions and growth. The inferiority complex refers to the blaming mindset. For instance, I was born in a poor family and uneducated. Therefore, I couldn’t succeed. This “cause and effect” mentality is detrimental to one’s mental health.

A long period of enduring the inferiority complex leads to a superiority complex or a fabricated/borrowed feeling of superiority. Specifically, one “borrows” superiority from using a luxury brand, being associated with a famous person or boasting one’s achievements. Other examples can be using jargon or big empty words. The book quoted Alfred Adler, a philosopher whose credit seems to be less than what he deserved: “The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority”.

I used to fill the hole of my inferiority complex with a superiority complex in the past. I, for sure, still do to some extent nowadays. Fortunately, I have tried very hard and consciously to use my feeling of inferiority to drive my personal growth and avoid living on someone’s value systems or borrowed superiority. I have made an effort to play down whatever I do, keep the low profile, keep my head down and just do my own things.

Unfortunately, it may be a bit tricky and difficult in a society drunk with superiority complex. In the past not so long ago, my friend recommended me to apply for a position in her team because she knows what I can do and that the company can be a good fit for me. I sent my resume. My friend, after two weeks, came back and was mad at me. She said that the hiring manager in her team would want to see me boast more on what I had done and that I needed to make the resume longer with more boastful statements.

One incident doesn’t represent the majority, but it would be naïve to think that it is not common. It makes the task of balancing it out tricky. There is no hard-and-fast rule on this. But I think it’s important that we are aware of these complexes and the practical consequences.