WOW Word-Of-the-Week #501: Rationalize

March 13, 2014 by  

Rationalize to justify (one’s actions, esp discreditable actions, or beliefs) with plausible reasons, esp after the event.

Did you find yourself thinking how could Bernie Madoff have done such a terrible thing? How did you react to Lance Armstrong finally confessing to using performance enhancing drugs to win all 7 Tour de France races?

The LA Times had an article written by Walter Hamilton titled, “Why Madoff employees didn’t blow the whistle” and then I just watched the documentary titled, “The Armstrong Lie.” I found myself in disbelief that people would knowingly lie and cheat. And continue to do it for years! I couldn’t sleep at night. How about you?

Hamilton writes, “It’s one of the more baffling elements of the Bernard L. Madoff saga. Why did so many employees of the disgraced money manager go along with the record-setting Ponzi scheme rather than blow the whistle on such a brazen financial felon?

 Scott Wiltermugh is a researcher who studies how people rationalize unethical behavior, hoping to shed light on the contorted logic used to justify wrongdoing. Part of the reason is obvious. Madoff was a domineering figure. People feared for their jobs- and of course – their bountiful paychecks. Employees probably comforted themselves in the notion that they were only following instructions and didn’t initiate the scam themselves.

But it goes deeper, Wiltermugh said. Even though the scam was hurting people – especially new investors unknowingly a rationalpouring in their money – employees probably told themselves they were helping other people – older investors who wanted to cash out. They were also aiding their co-workers who needed their jobs.

 In other words, people may have deluded themselves into somehow thinking they were doing the right thing.”

And as for Lance Armstrong, Stephanie Bunbury writes, “In 1997, when he was first declared cancer free, he become the front man for his own foundation, which raised millions for cancer sufferers and their families. Every time he was dragged through the mire of accusation and multiple tests, he had a sensational comeback: his persecutors were not just attacking him but all the little children with cancer he was helping and would be able to help as long as he was on top.”

And my opinion – it is all about power and control, and ultimately being greedy.

This week is all about not rationalizing.  How do you feel about people who do things that are ethically questionable? Would you be a whistle blower?