What do a Business Ethics class and a Trip to Germany have in Common?

Wow – this was a heavy class (business ethics course on 3/27) and we definitely couldn’t have enough time in the world to do more than scratch the surface on this topic of reporting wrongdoing. I recently travelled to Germany over spring break and visited the Dachau concentration camp. When I visited this place I was horrified to be stepping on ground where thousands of humans were murdered and treated with little regard for their dignity or rights. It was interesting to see parallels in my business ethics class and also my personal experience with German history. I was reminded of two things from that visit:

  1. The camp was in the backyards of several residents in the area. This was no secret. I learned there were people (in nearby residences) belonging to three different groups: those who didn’t know what was going on (small percentage), those who turned a blind eye and didn’t bother learning more about the conditions in the camp, and those who somewhat supported the regime and all that came with it. This was from 1933 – 1945. All those years and no one said anything? Anyway, this week’s business ethics class discussion reminded me of this moment on my trip. It reminded me that without safety guaranteed, it is nearly impossible to expect someone to blow the whistle – no matter how inhumane the wrongdoing is. After the camp was liberated, the nearby inhabitants came to view the dead bodies piled inside the crematoriums. This reminded me of the eerie, yet true idea that the sins of our fathers will haunt generations to come. I know for the residents of Dachau those images will never be erased.
  2. Human experimentation in WWII and in 2018 – two vastly different methods, but still happening today. When I was leaving the concentration camp I had a discussion with my boyfriend about how terrible it was that humans were used for scientific experiments. After discussing for a few minutes this physical abuse he mentioned that we are also experimented on a daily basis in 2018. Of course, not in the same manner that the camp prisoners were (and I am by no means trying to belittle their suffering or injustice so please do not take this comparison that way). The recent privacy scandal with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica  reminded me of this conversation with my boyfriend. He spoke about how we are still being experimented on no matter how “free” we think we are. I found it interesting how the data privacy breach could be likened to a human social experiment with elements of manipulation, propaganda, and invasion of privacy.  We want to be hopeful that we’ve come a long way, but maybe groups are just smarter and more discreet about how they manipulate people.

All in all, I learned that no matter how grave the wrongdoing, people are still unwilling to speak out. The class truly reveals to me how imperfect and selfish we are as humans. I think if our systems provided more protection / safety nets, maybe it would encourage our society (the people comprising it) to act with more integrity, honesty, and fairness. What is most important though is ensuring students take classes such as these to really become more self-aware how we act in situations presenting and ethical dilemma.

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