WE ARE ALL BORN with basic impulses or drives that help us survive. We have “self-interest needs”—acquiring food, shelter, clothing, money—that satisfy our innate drives of hunger, thirst, and pleasure. We also have “other-interest needs”—cooperating, altruism—that satisfy our drives of attachment and bonding with others. Self-interest and other-interest needs can often be in conflict. We want to earn as much money as we can for our families and our own well-being but also want to be fair to our shareholders and customers. This conflict of needs is often the central underpinning of ethical dilemmas.1
What makes things more confusing is that self-interest and otherinterest needs are not clearly separate. One can make an argument that they are one and the same. For example, altruism can be seen as a “selfish” motive. The following is a true incident in the life of abraham Lincoln, “one of the most altruistic of men”:
Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a fellow-passenger on an old-time mud-coach
that all men were prompted by selfishness in doing Good. His fellow-passenger
was antagonizing this position when they were passing over a corduroy bridge
that spanned a slough. As they crossed this bridge they espied an old razor-
backed sow on the bank making a terrible noise because her pigs had got into
the slough and were in danger of drowning. As the old coach began to climb the
hill, Mr. Lincoln called out, “Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?” then Mr.
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Publication information: Book title: The Ethical Executive: Becoming Aware of the Root Causes of Unethical Behavior: 45 Psychological Traps That Every One of Us Falls Prey To. Contributors: Robert Hoyk - Author, Paul Hersey - Author. Publisher: Stanford University Press. Place of publication: Stanford, CA. Publication year: 2008. Page number: 31.
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