Swimming against the tide – can “good character” make a comeback?


GoldmanSachsWith today’s news of the distasteful practices that ensure promotion in the banking firm Goldman Sachs, comes the revelation of another whistle-blower, someone speaking out at detriment to themselves about something they find morally wrong, unwilling and unable to keep quiet no matter what their financial reward for doing so; following in the footsteps of Bradley Manning, Jeffrey Wigand and Karen Silkwood, to name just a few.

It used to be that “good character” was something to be desired, something to strive towards personally and something recognised and cherished in others. Nowadays it’s viewed as an obstruction to earning your boss top dollar.

As civilisation emigrated from the agricultural fields to the buzz of the metropolis, we entered what psychologists called “The Age of Personality”. Moral fibre was no longer enough to make you stand out from the crowd, the stakes of competition were higher and suddenly charisma, magnetism and a willingness to take risks were qualities that got you places.

And so here we find ourselves today, in a world driven by profit and money, with no guarantee that anyone is trustworthy, however highly esteemed they may be.  A voice like Greg Smith’s gives us a reference point to re-align our moral compass, and yet another warning for us to ignore at our peril.

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs – NYTimes.com.

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. I don’t know what happened, but somehow it’s not cool to be a person of good character, any more… I don’t think this just applies to the world of finance, though. It is very widespread…

    1. I think people are conflicted. They still recognise the value of good character but are torn by the pressure to standout from the crowd. Like Mena Suvari’s character Angela, in American Beauty, who is horrified at the prospect of being “ordinary”, they will make decisions and pursue desires that go against their conscience in their efforts to be popular and therefore “Happy”. Very soon, they no longer even hear their conscience…

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