iTunes U Course: TED Talks Leading Wisely
Lecture (iTunes): Barry Schwartz: Our loss of wisdom
Fantastic speech by Barry Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz begins by discussing President Obama's inaugural speech. He did not encourage us to spend our way our of the recession, or to “trust us and invest”, rather he appealed to virtue and said that “we must put aside childish things”.
He then discusses the standard job requirements of a hospital janitor. The janitor’s job description discusses various tasks, primarily related to physical labor around the hospital. Mr. Schwartz points out that not a single item on this list mentions other people. He continue by sharing several stories of highly regarded janitors who went above and beyond their job description to make a patient or family more comfortable, or to otherwise help those dealing with difficult situation. In many cases these actions were not specifically part of that janitors job or in some cases were directly opposed with that persons assignment for the day.
These people have the moral will to do good by others and the moral skill to figure out what doing right means. Practical Wisdom: Know when and how to make the exception to every rule.
His next story discusses how a father accidentally gave his son Mikes Hard Lemonade, without knowing that it contained alcohol. This man was arrested, shortly jailed, and separated from his family for several weeks. All parties involved in the case indicated that the were just following the rules.
Scott Simon shared this story on NPR back in 2008 and said "Rules and procedures may be dumb, however they spare you from thinking". As a society, when things go wrong, we reach for 2 things: rules and incentives.
The truth is that neither rules nor incentives are enough.
So what can we do? Celebrate moral exemplars. We need to strive for practical wisdom.