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How to behave honorably in a global world

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whether through everyday conversations or discussions in the classroom, you’ve probably heard discussions on globalization: people today interact with others from many different cultures and backgrounds much more frequently than in decades past. From volunteering through DukeEngage, to studying abroad, to even spending time with friends from different cultural backgrounds, Duke students are certainly becoming more aware of their world and are becoming globalized. This presents a unique challenge in regards to values of integrity and honor. Different communities and cultures are governed by different moral codes. So how do we reconcile our own moral standards with those held by others? 

The Harvard Business Review addresses this question from an corporate standpoint. When businesspeople work abroad, they often encounter legal and ethical standards different from those in their home countries. Thomas Donaldson addresses the unique question of whether businesspeople should stand by the moral codes held in their native country or adopt those of their country of occupation. According to Donaldson, one perspective, cultural relativism, takes the “when in Rome…” approach, while another standpoint, cultural imperialism, encourages businesspeople to abide by the same morals as they would in their home country. It is easy to see how the implicit debate between these two ideologies influences businesses—how should a company proceed if an action is morally and legally acceptable in a foreign country, but not in the company’s home country? How should a corporation train and treat employees from different cultures? This dilemma is difficult to resolve because company leaders must often choose between prioritizing economic gains and adhering to personal or cultural morals. Because the people the company leader is responsible for, including investors and employees, might be positively or negatively affected by the leader’s choice, deciding what is morally “right” or “wrong” can be extremely difficult. Though often in very different ways, this same question greatly affects all Duke students. 

At a recent Honor Council meeting, we discussed how Duke students come from diverse backgrounds and hold a variety of moral and ethical ideals, but we are all expected to conform to the Duke Community Standard. The Standard is like the roots of a tree—it is the common moral ground upon which we all build, as branches build upon a tree’s foundation. Each of our individual “branches,” or personal code of ethics, are affected by our cultural, religious and community backgrounds, and deserve the respect of other community members. By using the Standard as a starting point and striving to understand how fellow students have woven it into their personal ideologies, we can further individual and community relationships. This provides an opportunity for all students to develop a more cohesive and trusting community. 

Through travel and technology, Duke students also encounter people outside of our university community, that might hold very different moral codes. If we act with the goal of treating others with equality and respect, then we can immerse ourselves in local customs and ideals while holding on to our own morals and beliefs. In order to better understand the communities we find ourselves in, we must personally make the effort to engage and interact; One way to do this might be by simply participating in local practices by attending a religious ceremony or helping prepare a meal. If college is truly about expanding your horizons and getting a world-class education, you must put forth the effort to become a citizen of the world, recognizing the importance of countries and communities globally. Through these experiences,  students should do their best to serve as an example of kindness, trustworthiness, open-mindedness and integrity, both throughout the Duke community and beyond our borders. 

This week’s column was written by Trinity first-year Gabrielle Marushack.

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