Words Have Consequences

A Failure of Ethical Leadership


How does an organization whose mission focuses on professional ethics and ethical leadership respond to the events of the past week? How does an organization that studies the perpetrators in the professions in Nazi Germany respond to the events of the past week?

The murders that took place in Pittsburgh and in Louisville, and the delivery of bombs to individuals and institutions, are not random, inexplicable, unpredictable acts of depraved individuals. We must now acknowledge that these unspeakable acts are part of a progression that began with a conscious rejection of the pluralistic and democratic norms that govern our daily lives and that define the way that we interact with each other.

Hate speech is unacceptable. And speech that promotes hate is dangerous. Yes, perhaps only depraved people actually convert that hate into murderous acts. But, we cannot ignore the reality that promoting hate has the consequence (intended or not) of hateful acts. One leads inexorably to the other.

We expect, we demand, that our leaders practice ethical leadership. They set the tone for our great country. They are our voice, our conscience and our clarion. Words and actions that promote hate reflect the absence of ethical leadership. This is not a partisan statement. We are permitted, even encouraged, to disagree (and argue) about the regulation of weapons, about abortion, about capital punishment, about immigration policy – that is the beauty of a democratic society. If the majority wants tax relief, we have tax relief. If a majority wants weapons regulations, we have weapons regulations.

However, we do not vilify the opposition. We do not criminalize the opposition. We do not intentionally make up facts, i.e. lie, in order to promote our political positions. We do not encourage violence against the opposition. That is unethical leadership.

Back to professional ethics and ethical leadership. Back to the professionals in Nazi Germany. FASPE does not seek analogies to Nazi Germany. To analogize or even to suggest a path of analogies can be destructive and unacceptable. It risks engaging in the demagoguery and hate that has become too much part of the discourse in America.

Instead, FASPE studies the perpetrators in Nazi Germany in order to display the role that our leaders, the professionals, must play in a civil society. The professional class in Nazi Germany did not object, they did not stand in the way. They enabled even by their silence. Staying quiet in the face of unethical behavior, large or small, is unacceptable.

FASPE asks that as a responsibility of professional ethics and ethical leadership, we, as leaders in our respective communities, speak out against the hatred that is clearly being condoned and encouraged. There is a direct line between speech that promotes hate and hateful actions. We must be clear and unequivocal in our non-partisan objection to this behavior. That is the lesson of history: the absolute requirement that the leaders and influencers in our communities, our clergy, doctors, teachers, journalists, lawyers, business executives – those and more – speak out against hatred. We must demand ethical behavior with our own voices and from our own pulpits, bully or otherwise.

We do not have to ask why anyone feels compelled to spew such hate. However, we can ask that we learn from history and demand a return to civility, to the rule of law, to the norms that we expect from our leaders.

David Goldman
Founder and Chairman, FASPE