Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Toyota, Calvin and Edwards

All idols have feet of clay and every hero will one day disappoint us. How many children and teens looked up to Tiger Woods as a role model? Now he has joined a long list of fallen sports heroes. The story (likely apocryphal) has it that as Shoeless Joe Jackson walked out of the courtroom after giving testimony in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, a heartbroken young fan called out “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” But it was so for Joe, for Tiger, for Pete Rose, for Mark McGwire, Michael Vick and so many others. Their athletic achievements were remarkable, but are forever tarnished by their personal moral failings.

Let us not even get started on the moral lapses of religious leaders! So many preachers who thumped the pulpit hardest in denouncing the sins of others proved guilty of sexual misconduct, infidelity, dishonesty and greed of the worst sort – it is hardly surprising that many folks dismiss all religious people as “a bunch of hypocrites.” While he was still an atheist, Malcolm Muggeridge was once asked why he was so hostile to Christianity. “I have nothing against Jesus,” he answered, “I just don’t care much for his friends.”

I could go on to discuss politicians, police officers, bankers – there is no human organization or institution that is free of moral failure. Christian faith insists that sinfulness is inherent in the human condition. John Calvin put it must strongly when he termed human beings “utterly depraved,” which led one of my colleagues to respond “anyone who believes in the utter depravity of man can’t be all bad!” We are complex and wonderful creatures, capable of remarkable generosity, self-sacrifice, kindness, decency and compassion. But we are also depraved, and the very best of us will occasionally fail to live up to our professed values. Which is why we need external sources of authority to which we are held accountable – laws, codes, oaths and commandments.

Toyota is the most recent idol whose feet of clay have been exposed to the glare of public scrutiny. They have been a role model for many organizations, including the one I work for, Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin. Goodwill has adopted many of Toyota’s programs and procedures – notably LEAN – that have been and continue to be of enormous benefit to the organization. We also adopted a fair amount of their jargon, which I have been less enthusiastic about, but that’s another story.

Now the world knows that Toyota ignored many of its professed values in pursuit of power, position and the almighty dollar. It will take them many years to regain the trust and respect that their customers had invested in them. The sins of greed and arrogance have once more taken their inevitable toll on a respected and widely-admired organization.

Like many other organizations that joined “the cult of Toyota,” Goodwill is trying to distance itself from Toyota’s moral lapses while continuing to employ the valuable business practices they pioneered. We have learned a great deal from Toyota about how to do things better. Now we have received a lesson on how critical it is to hold fast to our values, for once we begin to compromise those values in even small ways we begin sliding down the fast and slippery slope Jonathan Edwards described in such a terrifying manner.

It is remarkable how many people still profess to be shocked when a respected individual or organization behaves very badly. As Calvin and Edwards would say: Duh!”

1 comment:

Richard L. Floyd said...

Good post, John. Our society embraced the corporate world (and their models) as the ones that knew how thing “really work.”

Oops, they have feet of clay like all the rest of us. The church should have known better, but sadly we didn't. And still don't. Our marketing strategies come straight from corporate. That is why “The Office” is so funny. But also sad.