Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

Giving Voice to Values

We are grateful for this guest post by Michael Palmer, Ethics by Design. Michael wrote this post about Mary’s visit to Middlebury and MCSE lunch lecture on September 13, 2012.

Professor Mary Gentile Speaks at Middlebury[1]

Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. in 1960, Stanley Milgram began conducting a series of experiments that became the basis for his book, Obedience to Authority. Expecting to discover some aberrant mental trait that explained why some people had become complicit in the Nazi Holocaust, he found instead that more than 50% of ordinary people would blindly follow orders from a perceived authority even if it meant the injury or possible death of others. Good people will, in certain contexts, do bad things.

Neither Milgram nor, to my knowledge, any other psychologist paid much attention to the people who said no, people who refused to continue administering what they thought were painful, perhaps even deadly, electric shocks to other people. They literally stood up for humane values and walked out.

What does it take to give voice to moral values when the forces of social pressure, job security, cultural norms, or perceived authority are telling us to go along to get along. And how does one learn to do that?

Discovering the answer to those questions and helping people develop the moral muscle to take appropriate action is the task Dr. Mary Gentile of Babson College has set herself in the Giving Voice to Values project, an innovative curriculum about teaching, thinking, and acting on our moral values in the workplace.

Started in 2006, Giving Voice to Values (GVV) has been integrated—without charge—into the curricula of over 300 graduate business programs as well as numerous non-profits and commercial enterprises, spread across 7 continents. One might say that the mission of the program is to reduce the percentage of people who would comply with the experimenter’s instructions in the Milgram study and increase the number who would find ways to give voice to moral values whenever the occasion to do so presents itself.

Sponsored by the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the Department of Philosophy, Dr. Gentile recently spoke to a large gathering of Middlebury College students and faculty. Keep reading a summary of her remarks.

Although GVV was developed as something for business schools, it is increasingly being used in all kinds of disciplines and some businesses. Lockheed-Martin has adopted it, and McKinsey is piloting it in their leadership development program. We’re expanding.

[1] Based on notes taken by Michael Palmer at the talk. This text has not been reviewed by Dr. Gentile.

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