Virtual Voices

The Values Gap

Culture

I had to talk to a group of people today about organizational culture, and how the stated values of an organization can diverge from its actual values. The real test is never what the organization says about itself, but what it punishes and rewards. Enron's Code of Ethics, after all, included "Integrity," just as segregation-affirming Southern churches used Bibles that contained the Sermon on the Mount.

The problem is that delving into whether an organization actually implements its beliefs can be threatening, especially when one surfaces evidence that there is a gap. I suppose that's true of people as well. It's because our stated values are in part our pictures of ourselves. Nobody likes an unflattering picture. So we learn to ignore the gaps between what we tell ourselves we value, and what we do or don't do. Thus can parents, for example, making six figures and working 90 hours a week, tell themselves they are doing it all for the kids they rarely see. Or a politically-minded citizen can tell himself he's all for ensuring that every American is cared for, and yet give very little of his own time or money.

And just as we loathe the thought of anyone discerning such gaps in our own lives, there is an animal in most of us that particularly enjoys seeing someone else caught out. I don't suppose those are unrelated facts. It's the Devil, after all, who is also the Accuser.

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So as I stood there talking I couldn't help but consider all the gaps between what I say I value and how I live. And for a moment I was overtaken by the powerful urge to blurt them all out, in no particular order, and keep confessing until there was nobody left to listen, until I had driven them from the room.

I didn't, of course, because I am prideful, and because they weren't there to hear about me, and perhaps most of all, because I would only be saying what most of them already feel, because who among us doesn't feel the weight of those gaps, at least some of the time? Maybe there are such people, saints or devils each. And here I am in between, striving to be more like the man I want my sons to call their father.

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