our values and ethical systems eventually have to be harmonized as much as our markets. To put it differently, as it becomes harder to shield yourself from the other guy’s irresponsibility, both he and you had better become more responsible.
But that hasn’t been the trend. We’ve become absorbed by shorter and shorter-term thinking — from Wall Street quarterly thinking to politician-24-hour-cable-news-cycle thinking. We’re all day-traders now. We have day-thinking politicians trying to regulate day-trading bankers, all covered by people tweeting on Twitter.
So more and more of us are behaving by, what Seidman calls, “situational values”: I do whatever the situation allows. Think Goldman Sachs or BP. The opposite of situational values, argues Seidman, are “sustainable values”: values that inspire in us behaviors that literally sustain our relationships with one another, with our communities, with our institutions, and with our forests, oceans and climate. Of course, to counter this epidemic of situational thinking, we need more and better regulations, but we also need more people behaving better. Regulations only tell you what you can or can’t do in certain situations. Sustainable values inspire you to do what you should do in every situation.