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Corporate Creeps Set a Tone: Don’t Let Your Family Follow Their Example

It’s been a tough few years for American families. In fact, with near financial ruin of Wall Street, the triumph of nastiness in national civil society and now an ecological catastrophe that reads like it is straight out of a Hollywood horror film playing out in the Gulf of Mexico it’s been tough for America, period.

Given my work as a psychotherapist I look at things through a psychological lens which can be helpful in gaining a different view of national trends. In fact, the dynamics of family psychology frequently plays out in the larger national “family” and actually helps explain some of the more breathtaking examples of corporate venality that have rocked the nation.

Whether it’s Bernie Madoff, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein or the latest corporate bad boy, British Petroleum’s Tony Hayward, you can’t help but and wonder what makes these guys tick? As despicable as this growing galley of overpaid jerks may be, they must be seen within the context of being a symptom of something larger, which brings me back to psychology. All of these oily characters are a creation of the dark side of corporate culture which, as we are seeing most immediately played out in the Gulf, can have huge impacts on kids, families and whole communities and cultures. Recent examples of business from the dark side of corporate culture range from childrens toys spiked with lead-based paint to the dumping of sick people from insurance company rolls to the looting of hard-earned pension funds to pay for CEO perks and bonuses. Successful businesses are raided and rendered down for every last penny in the interest of short-term profit, while throwing workers into unemployment and decimating families. De-regulation has permitted the darker unrestrained aspects of corporate culture to run amuck.

But how to explain this shadowy side of corporate culture?

The answer can be found in the Bible of psychology: the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, otherwise known as the DSM-IV. In addition to run-of-the-mill conditions like anxiety and depression there is a whole section of the DSM-IV devoted to what are called personality disorders, a fascinating subset of psychology which includes a range of disorders like borderline, narcissistic, histrionic and paranoid. Among this catalog of woe is the antisocial personality disorder, which is described in the manual as “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others…”

Before running through the seven characteristics of the antisocial personality disorder think back on some of the news of the past two years, or even further back to the Enron case. Consider how Goldman Sachs knowingly created junk investment funds and then lied about it to trusting clients or how Countrywide Home Loans wove killer adjustable rates into the arcane gobbledygook of re-finance agreements sold to the elderly and poor. Remember how American soldiers were electrocuted in sub-standard housing built by Halliburton at exorbitant fees in Iraq? Sit for a moment with the ongoing revelations of internal corporate documents showing BP knew they were at risk of unleashing an environmental hell hole they had no way of containing and knowingly lied about the scale of the oil rupture in the first month. Think of all the banks that lapped up taxpayer bailouts with the understanding they would use that money for loans to small businesses and instead used that citizen cash for executive bonuses and takeovers of businesses, slowing our economic recovery at the same time jacking up credit card interest rates to a level that would make Tony Soprano hang his head in shame. At tax time you can’t help but think about all those shell companies down in the Cayman Islands used to avoid paying corporate taxes. Heck, if nothing else, think about the brakes on your Toyota.

And despite all this, on average, corporate CEO compensation is higher than ever.

Okay, now that your memory is refreshed and your blood boiling read through the following list of antisocial personality disorder behavioral patterns and check off which ones fit what we’ve seen with many corporations. The DSM-IV says the diagnosis applies if three or more of the following criteria are present:

What is described here is criminal thinking. The joke about antisocials is that they grow up to become a bank robber … or a bank president.

Now certainly there are many good corporate citizens, and most bank presidents out there are not the ones who have taken advantage of de-regulation to run our economy and many families into the ditch. But make no mistake, the antisocial criminal thinking of many corporations and their appointed CEOs is real and dangerous to us individually and the national community our children grow up in and the stability of the economy we depend upon.

Part of the problem lies in the underlying mandate of incorporation that the ultimate loyalty of a corporation is to its shareholders, who own the corporation, and no one else. Their responsibility is not to a nation or the environment or to its workers or neighbors impacted by corporate behavior and decisions. There is no responsibility implied to future generations. Given recent corporate behavior, it seems corporate responsibility for many has been so twisted as to focus exclusively on immediate quarter-to-quarter short-term profit, even if it comes at the price of long-term corporate stability or, survival.

It’s no wonder Tony Hayward bobbed to the top of BP.

So how does all this come back to parenting? Simple. Parents need jobs to provide their families a base financial foundation so children are well educated, properly fed, provided some opportunities to pursue their talents and dreams and have a sense of family stability. Parents who are unemployed or just been robbed of their retirement savings or other investments are stressed and not as emotionally available to their children. Marriages are often fractured and families upended by such losses. Unemployment, financial stress and poverty are three of the greatest risk factors for substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide.

Ethical behavior and enlightened self-restraint do count. It’s what a good parent teaches a child.

However, in the antisocial personality disorder mindset of corporate thinking, private wealth trumps absolutely everything else. That needs to change, and soon, because as we have seen, and our Gulf Coast neighbors are experiencing daily, illegal and unethical shenanigans of Wall Street corporate antisocials reverberate like a cluster bomb down the middle of Main Street.


Mark L. Taylor MA LPC SAC is a Wisconsin licensed counselor who works extensively with adolescents and their families. He also founded the RoundRiver Institute LLC, a learning center near Genoa, WI. Permission is granted for personal use of this material. If you pass it on to other individuals please include a link back to this page. If you wish to use it in a newsletter or publication please contact Mark at: http://www.round-river2000.com

© Mark L. Taylor and RoundRiver Institute LLC