Monday, February 28, 2011

A Moral Dilemma & the Word for Integrity

One of my husband's interns has just left for another job, (& a 40% pay rise) having been with him for nearly 2 years. She was exceptionally bright, talented & hard working. She was fun, friendly & reliable. Sadly she left under a cloud. Here's why:
3 months ago my husband sent her (willingly) on a course in Romania. A s is standard practice, he drew up an agreement which said that if she left before she had completed another year with his organisation, she would be liable to pay back pro rata for each month under the year that she hadn't worked. he asked her if it was ok & she said yes she was fine with it. However, being completely snowed under & working too many hours, meant my husband forgot to get her to sign it. the week before she left, somehow it cropped up with the finance manager so he talked to the intern about it & said "You only went on the course 3 months ago so you are leaving 9/12 of a year early for our agreement".
Her response was that she had hoped he had 'forgotten about it.' And as was apparent, she certainly wasn't going to remind him. Anyway, after lengthy discussion, it became clear that this 22 year old girl was adamant that she was not going to repay it. My husband admits he has no legal leg to stand on;
"A gentleman's word is as good his bond" according to Charles Dickens in "The Old Curiosity Shop" but that doesn't wash in Albania, or in England I imagine anymore; if it ever did. Hard to prove a verbal agreement, which of course she claims she 'doesn't remember' anyway.

My husband tried to meet her half way & offered her a retrospective pay rise, so effectively she would only owe half the amount, but no she wasn't budging on that either. Furthermore, she said she had consulted with her uncle who was a lawyer, who told her to stand her ground & that her CEO (my husband) couldn't 'make her pay'.
At this point my husband explained that he & she were working for an NGO, a not-for-profit organisation, so they weren't awash with money & more importantly trust, integrity & honesty were very important as it was a Christian humanitarian organisation working to help the poor.
We were talking hundreds, not thousands of dollars too, but in a small organisation like this one, it all counts.

Nada. Nothing doing. Immoveable.

Now tell me reader, what is your response to this? I confess I was utterly gob-smacked that this 20-something student had the confidence, verve & sang froid to eyeball my husband, admittedly a not very intimidating boss, but still 20 odd yrs her senior, & say effectively:

"Shan't. You can't make me."
All true, but the gall!

This girl won a sponsorship to that Boarding school in Wales (I forget its name) which is in a castle & did all her high school education there. Then she went to Dartmouth College in the States, very prestigious again, I'm told, because where Harvard & Yale have 20,000 stuents each, Dartmouth is Ivy League but with only 5000 students, so it's much harder to get into.
Smart cookie. But, as the saying goes "A person is not given integrity. It results from the relentless pursuit of honesty at all times." You can't learn that in college.

Confucius says "The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home." What hope has this girl got when her elders are advising her, not what is right or just, but what she can get away with?

I know this is politically incorrect, but this is the single, biggest problem with Albania. Everything here seems to be about what you can get away with & who you can bribe to get out of trouble. No one has to take responsibility for their actions.

It is endemically corrupt. Communism left a moral vacuum. And it is something I have come across time & again. Lack of integrity , or outright corruption. An Albanian friend told me they didn't even have a word for integrity in Albanian, they have Albanianised the English word. So it's Integritetin.

John Gardener 1912-2002 who wa s a US secretary for Eudcation, Health & Welfare sums it up very well
"Men of integrity, by their very existence, rekindle the belief that a s a people, we can live above the level of moral squlaor. We need that belief, a cynical community, is a corrupt community".

By contrast this week, several of my husband's Albanian colleagues have heard he will be leaving, & I have been quite bowled over by the kind words & observartions they have made. They have seen that my husband is someone who 'does the right thing even if no one is watching.' (these are verbatim)
"You strike me as someone who practises what they preach.
"You have been a good example to me"
"You are highly appreciated for your good example."
"We have seen enough people preaching one thing & living another."
"Thank you for your honorable leadership".
"In my long working experience with NGOs I have worked with many internationals, however, you will be one of the best, who has left an indelible imprint in my memory"
"Albania needs international leaders like you who role model the profile of true leaders, who inspire their staff by 'what they say' & lead 'through their example.' "

Ralph Waldo Emerson said "A little integrity is better than any career."
I am so proud of him. I wonder, in his heart of hearts whether this girl's uncle can say the same of her?


lulu's missives said...

That was an amazing post.
Your husband sounds like a champion amongst men.
Integrity and honour and trust are all very important, not just in business, but in everyday life.

Iota said...

Those are quite some comments!

Iota said...

About your husband, I mean.

Expat mum said...

It happens overe here (USA) all the time. My husband took on a woman a few years ago at a very senior level. She has the gall to ask for her bonus early, and my husband took the trouble to calculate it earlier than he did the others, thinking that this might make her more loyal. (And he's not a naive businessman.) Not only did she up and leave as soon as she received her bonus, but she had been actively looking for other jobs when she asked in the first place.
He did go after her and pointed out that she was contractually obligated to replay the loan. She basically told him that if he wanted it, he would have to sue her for it, knowing that it wasn't worth the time of the money.
Me? I would have phoned up her new employers and told them the tale, but my husband's not that vindictive.

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Potty Mummy said...

Sadly, not just an Albanian problem - not that I can write about it, since we're here for a little longer!

nappy valley girl said...

Sadly I've come across people like this before - in the UK and over here. But I can believe that it must be endemic in a place where corruption is the norm. How utterly infuriating.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Lulu: I agree, & yes I am v proud of him.
Iota: Aren't they just? & yes I knew what you meant!
Expat Mum. Wow, inbelieveable story.And yes, the very same initial reaction for me too: 'How unjust, her employer shd know abt this!' My husband, rapidly falling off his pedestal, informed this was because I was a woman, & was a 'woman scorned's reaction'! (albeit scorned on his behalf)
PM: I know it's corruption etc is a problem in many, many countries.
NVG: infuriating is the word!

PantsWithNames said...

Same in Bosnia. But it seems it is the same everywhere. Lots of people say it is because of the promotion of the individual against that of the community... in every way our culture seems to promote bettering yourself, by any means possible.

BTW - how have I missed your last couple of posts? How brilliant of your boy, so pleased for him! So excited to have you back around here too... we shall have to get together, sneak some strong coffee and talk of those Balkan days.

Sarah (Catching the Magic) said...

Equally gobsmacked! The nerve of the girl! I am truly saddened by her lack if values. I wouldn't be able to live with myself and the guilt in her shoes. Karma I say! I hope she experiences Karma in her future. Scrooge in 'Christmas Carol' comes to mind.

Lois Thorpe said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention the moral vacuum left by communism. I also live as an expat in a former communist country (Ukraine) and seem to face that kind of attitude all around me. Responsibility has not been modeled even in the last 20 years of independence and so taking it means one is in the minority. The attitude seems to be that one will only get screwed in the end if one sticks up for what is right. At least that is how I end up feeling when I take responsibility for things, trying to set an example. I am grateful for the few friends and coworkers I have that break my stereotypes and make me want to continue to invest in those around me.

My thanks and appreciation to you and your husband for modeling what can be a thankless, unending task!