Saturday, March 27, 2010


The Parable of the Sadhu. The weaknessesof an (Industrial) Democracy Perspective on ethics were shown by a classic case, The Parable of the Sadhu (McCoy 1991). Bohen McCoy and his anthropologist friend (and committed Quaker) Stephen were on a very dangerous trek through a treacherous mountain pass in Nepal. There were other completely independent groups from New Zealand and Japan, and a couple from Switzerland, facing the same hazardous passage. An advance party had suddenly discovered an almost naked, barefoot Indian holy man at the 15,500-foot level. The Sadhu was found lying on the ice, shivering and suffering from hypothermia. He was summarily dumped into the care of McCoy and Stephen. Another party departed without rendering any assistance; a third positively refused to lend their pack animal to transport the Sadhu further back down the pass to the nearest village. The students were given this part of the case to decide in small groups what should be done in an ethical manner. The solution of the case and its implications for ethical theory were given to the students after the small-group discussions. Because of the climatic conditions, McCoy and his friend, who were also in poor physical condition themselves, decided to leave the Sadhu at a point where it was physically possible for the him to walk down to a village some 500 feet below. McCoy and his friend Stephen, a deeply committed Quaker, had serious discussions for days afterwards on what should have been done, ethically, for the Sadhu as a fellow human being. As a result, McCoy saw the plight of the Sadhu as similar to ethical situations faced in the corporate world. First of all, the groups in Nepal had no ethical leader. Similarly, when there is no ethical leadership in the corporate world, ethical procedure becomes unhinged. Each individual or group panics, attempts to "bail out," in order to avoid the whole awkward situation. An ethical system with a vertical dimension - from top to bottom - is needed to unite democratic groups. Learning a lesson from the parable of the Sadhu, McCoy sees the need of a strong ethical leader in the modern corporation. Secondly, the individual needs some group support for an ethical position. Stephen tried hard to argue for complete assistance for the Sadhu until his safety was assured, but he received no support from others in the democratic situation. The parable of the Sadhu shows the same need of support for the ethical individual in the modern corporate world. Thirdly, there must be some form of clear process for handling ethical issues. This did not exist in the situation in Nepal. Corporations that have such procedures can gather together and weather the ethical crisis. In such a case, the democratic voice of an individual with a strong ethical vision can be of great support to others.