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The First Ethic — is it first priority?

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1. We shall do everything in our power to perpetuate the Society.

All of us have a copy of the Society Code of Ethics on the back of our membership cards. How often do you read them? Are you clear on what they mean?

I bring this up after talking to someone about relatively recent activities in his corner of the Society. I won’t go into any details, but basically, some members were dissatisfied with an aspect of their barbershop experience and arguably made a short-sighted and self-serving decision that may negatively affect several chapters in the area. If historic patterns follow, there may be a lot fewer folks singing barbershop harmony in that area in coming years. Bad feelings and bad behavior abound — it’s like watching a divorce unfold.

This member brought up several alternative routes that could have been followed, each of which would have allowed all parties to get what they wanted out of their barbershop experience. Both sides would have had to bend just a little. He lamented the zero-sum mentality he observed — the decision on both sides that there were going to be winners and losers, with no visible effort to negotiate for a win-win. Most of all, this member lamented that no one in this saga seemed to have the slightest inkling that they should be weighing their own actions and motives according to the Society’s First Ethic: We shall do everything in our power to perpetuate the Society.

Our founders could have worded that differently. They could have said, “We shall do everything in our power to perpetuate barbershop harmony,” but they knew better. They knew that all the other objectives hung from the formation of a Society that is strong enough to accomplish those outcomes. The perpetuation of the Society itself had to come ahead of all other considerations.

Human nature never changes

I suggest that the First Ethic is first for a reason. Human nature in the 1940s was no different than today. It’s very easy to view someone who disagrees with you as your adversary. It’s natural to want to prevail rather than negotiate. To expect others to adjust to our needs, while feeling justified in not accommodating someone else’s needs.

The First Ethic essentially says, “This isn’t only about you.” It says that every decision must pass through the filter of “Does this strengthen the whole Society? Will someone else pay the price for me getting what I want? If so, what are the alternatives?” And then you only pursue a course that strengthens everyone. It would be unethical to do otherwise.

No “my way or the highway.” No “whatever it takes to win,” if that includes demoralizing or weakening other chapters. No kingdom building, back room maneuvering, ego trips, slander or bad faith. No threats to “take the ball” and leave the playground if you don’t get your way. No shutting down new ideas because you’re comfortable with the way things are.

Again, human nature is what it is, and I don’t think we can get rid of the above problems by simply wishing them away. I do think a lot of the challenges that plague some chapters and some areas would be smaller if more barbershoppers viewed their actions through the same ethical filter–if the “It’s not just about me” mentality were more prevalent. In short, I think the Society Code of Ethics is worth revising frequently, and the #1 ethic discussed should be Ethic Number One.

Do you think there is too little focus on Ethic #1? Are there ways to ensure we strengthen its position in Society culture? Your thoughts and comments are appreciated!

Here’s an ethic for your comments: If your answer involves examples of barbershoppers behaving badly, please share them in a way that moves the conversation forward and which doesn’t make anybody look bad. If you don’ t want to leave your name for a particular comment in order to protect identities, that’s fine by me. We’ll still need your real email for the comment to be posted, but your “fake” name will be all that shows for this one.