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A liar is forgetful – Persian proverb “Me? Cheating? Never!”  

Most people like to think of themselves as ethical and honest. Yet, they surely cross many a moral boundaries in various stages of life. The study on morality shows that the people who value morality the most, behave unethically when given an opportunity to cheat, this is unethical amnesia! Acts like lying during negotiations, not paying taxes, omitting to mention important facts, overstating performance, deceiving in interpersonal relationships suggest how small acts of deceit can have a huge impact on regular lives. Socially and financially , the costs of such arguably ordinary acts of dishonesty are surprisingly large.

real time compliance

According to the above study, we can make two empirical assumptions about morality :

  1. Morality is dynamic and malleable
  2. Most of the unethical behaviour is the result of people failing to resist the temptation and continuing to be dishonest by not recognising the a moral issue arising due to their actions

A few studies also state that people lie when it “pays”, but limiting to the extent that they can do so without violating their perception of themselves as an honest person!. Such behavior leads us to ask a question – “ Will a person involved in a dishonest act, repeat it again, if it keeps rewarding him/her without affecting her moral standards?

unethical amnesia

The answer is a big YES!  Study conducted by Maryam Kouchaki at Northwestern and Francesca Gino at Harvard stated that people do not tend to remember the dishonest acts clearly! It tends to limits their ability to remember learn from their actions which makes them repeat them again and again. The memory of that particular act becomes hazy to avoid psychological distress and discomfort. They called this obfuscation of unethical memories as “Unethical Amnesia”

unethical amnesiaSo, why is this a problem?

Generally, an unethical act should garner remorse/guilt in the wrongdoer due to which that person would avoid repeating it. However, studies suggest that it is just the opposite! Unethical actions are forgotten over time and thus, are repeated more so. When the person fails to live up to his/her moral standards, their mind finds ways to alleviate this dissonance to reduce discomfort by using various strategies. E.g. They start judging others transgressions more harshly than their act of dishonesty. By doing this, they are presented in a more virtuous light than others. Such people tend to forget their acts of dishonesty so as to think of themselves as honest individuals.

This behaviour is most harmful at workplace when an employee or the entity itself, keeps repeating a dishonest act. There are so many cases of repeated non-compliance by an organisation. In 2016, Mitsubishi Motors accepted that did not comply with Japanese regulations for 25 years!  Therefore, GRC may pose threat to all kinds of organisations if not given due importance. VComply, a SaaS bases GRC tool helps you manage all your compliance formalities on a single integrated platform. Employees are reminded of their responsibilities on a periodic basis via emails. This allows management to keep a tab on the transgressions prevalent in the organization & ensure proactive steps to prevent an unwanted event.

What can we do to overcome such scenarios in life?

  • Self-reflection- Keep the memories alive!
  • Letting a 3rd party monitor standards set for yourself
  • Focus on the emotional pain caused by the act than the “reward”
  • Setting transparent work culture and encouraging accountable behavior
  • The reward for acting honestly being more than that of acting otherwise

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