Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Governance, temptation and child psychology
Mikie Stillman / NIRA director

September 2, 2002
"Be a good boy or you will have no toys."
"Just listen to me. Otherwise mommy won't like you anymore, honey."

All parents who have brought up children use these same mind-setting tools on their young children. Children experience similar psychological pressure at school from their teachers. They quickly realize certain rewards flow, whether toys or school grades, if they try to be good kids or teachers' pets.

Given this powerful mindset, I doubt that the same children, once they start working as employees whether in public sector or in private companies, would be able to consider that consumers' interests, shareholders' benefits or fairness for general public have a higher priority than their paternalistic bosses' orders.

"Do the work just as I tell you, then your salary will increase. You can buy your dream car or jewelry for your wife…. Those who have not obeyed the bosses' instruction will be fired first." Everyday many employees hear similar lines at work just echoing their deep-seated childhood memories and experiences.

These days so many corporate scandals are coming to light: massive rigged accounting of Enron and WorldCom in the US and in Japan several food companies tried to cheat the origin of beef to qualify for government financial compensations for their losses caused by mad cow disease. Our first response is to start talking about improving corporate governance issues. But we should not find it surprising that those who were constantly and unconsciously brainwashed by their parents and teachers that they would be rewarded and praised if they were good boys at home and at school will become compliant "yes men" or "brown-noses" in the workplace.

For ordinary people "not fighting against those who are more powerful than you" is a widely believed and practiced wisdom whether in the US or Japan. Most people live their whole lives according to this safe and wise dictum. The majority of employees naturally believe that by avoiding reckless battles with higher-ups their careers will be more successful. So who will be willing to struggle and in doing so contribute to the advancement or betterment of humankind?
History reminds us that kings claimed independence from the church. Then subjects established a political system to control the king's abuse of power. Colonies acquired independence from mother countries and slaves were freed from their masters. And now women and minorities are struggling to get more independence and freedom in their society.

"Children should be seen and not heard." "Faire le dos rond dans le torrent" ("Under the storm, you just keep your back bent not to see anything until it goes away"). Many maxims advising ordinary people not to make waves against higher authority are found in different cultures. However, those who challenge such paternalistic advice are the ones who have been changing history usually for the better.

In the past dissidents were persecuted and burned at the stake. Even in modern-day, many people lose their lives by resisting regimes. Just a decade ago we read the news about the last victim who tried to climb over the Berlin Wall before it was torn down. Sadly, many political refugees or prisoners of conscience exist in the 21st century.

In democratic countries like the US and Japan, luckily we do not jeopardize our physical lives by not obeying wrong orders from our superiors that would force us to commit illegal acts. But certainly a disobedient or disloyal attitude will undermine our social reputation and short-term career prospects. In case of private companies, social isolation and no promotion or salary increases can be expected. In the worst case, we might wind up unemployed.

To counteract these human nature practices and general mindset, the US and UK have introduced legal protections for whistleblowers and are even moving ahead to actively encourage or reward employees who report misconduct in the workplace. Japanese bureaucrats have always been well protected with job security under the Civil Servants Law. (Unless they commit misconduct themselves, those who do not obey legally or morally unjustifiable orders will not be fired, although they might be moved from the current post.) In theory, the civil service system sufficiently protects them from giving in to unjustifiable pressure whether from above or outside. Of course, the real problem is that in practice the cultural or personal upbringing of the individuals do not measure up to the theoretical strength of the system

There are many people, particularly in Japan, who could not bear the pain of being "socially murdered" and consider it as if they were physically killed. This seems to depend mainly on mental and moral development during their formative adolescence. Indeed young children need toy or TV reward/discipline to learn the minimum self-control such as sitting at table to eat or not to scream. Yet once they learn to think socially (see themselves as they interact with others) and are able to make moral decisions on their own, they begin to detect the failures and misconducts of their parents and notice that teachers or other superiors are not always right. Finally a certain self-esteem of not being so easily "bribed" by toys will also hopefully emerge in the most matured.

Corporate governance discussions should also include the issue of how to create and maintain an organizational culture where employees are not tempted by toys (promotions, stock options) in return for turning a blind eye to illegal or questionable corporate acts. An internal climate of an organization where misconducts and frauds are indulged and staff are praised if they participate in such acts should be resisted at the individual level and by society at large.

In the US whistleblowers are sometimes rewarded by outside society (book contracts, celebrity status). In Japan whistleblowers are still treated coldly or ostracized by the wider society which honors paternalistic obedience more. In this respect, despite the laws and public debate, little has changed from the tyranny of the past. And Japanese civil society does not yet realize that they themselves form part of the larger group, which is more important than the school or company, and from where the real pressure will come to liberate individuals' free moral judgments and accountability.

The writer is a think tank (NIRA) director. She is former Professor of Osaka University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

スティルマン美紀恵 / NIRA(シンクタンク)ディレクター

2002年 9月 2日

こどもを育てた経験のある親なら、誰もが思い当る幼児に対するマインドセッティングである。子どもは、家では親から、学校では教師から同様のプレッシャーを受ける。こどもは、good boy, teacher’s petにしていれば、おもちゃにしろ成績にしろ何らかの好意的な見返りを受けると知る。そのこどもが長じて企業なり官庁で働くとき、上司の命令よりも消費者利益、株主利益、あるいは広く国民の利益を優先するようになるのだろうか。


エンロンやワールドコム事件、あるいは日本の牛肉偽装事件に端を発しコーポレート・ガヴァナンスの欠如が論じられるが、親や教師から何気なく日常的に「いい子でいると得をする」と吹き込まれた子どもが、社会に出ればyes man, brown- noseになるのは驚くべき話ではない。







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Governance, temptation and child psychology