Rules to Live By: Moral Disagreements in Business

Subject: Business Ethics
Pages: 8
Words: 2277
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: Master

Moral rules have been following a human within all the time, hanging above him and constantly reminding him what is right and what is wrong. The nature of a man is built interestingly; even though he knows what the right action is, he will always aim for self-benefit. Egoism is an essential part of humans; the only difference between individuals is the voice of upbringing and conscience speaking inside. However, I believe each of us secretly or openly wants to have an endless beneficial and successful life. Yet, the society we live in dictates us special rules to live by, without which a group of people concerned only about their profit would create chaos and mess. Moral codes teach people to build relationships based on mutual benefit and success. These rules make peace and respect for each other, and without collaboration, no one could survive.

I consider each of us has a subconscious desire for benefit. All these movements full of sharing and gratitude are functioning only when all the steps of the Maslow pyramid are satisfied. When we feel safe and protected, we are ready to be friendly and thankful to each other, create goodness and charity. However, when people sensate a lack of food or water, the majority will forget about morality as self-protection and survival are the innate reflexes built in their nature. We cannot run away from it; still, we can learn to behave in a modern society creating trustworthy relationships between each other and having responsibilities for our actions.

Rules I Live By Personally

After reading the essay by Carl Sagan, “A new way to think about the rules to live by”, I realized moral codes have been changing over time as societies and beliefs have constantly been varying. Carl Sagan explains that nowadays, the best way to find a solution is to find the golden middle between ethics and pragmatics (Sagan, 1993). Among all the rules described in the essay, I can say I live mainly by the Brazen Rule. Even though it might not look nobly, and my parents taught me to follow the Golden Rule and the Silver Rule, it is hard to apply them in real life.

You never know how another person will react to your goodness, as he might have a habit of walking all over people. In most situations, I wait for someone to show me his inside world and act the similar way back he does to me. From the first meeting, I give people a one hundred percent chance to be kind, grateful, and helpful. I believe in them and try not to judge them for any attributes or appearance. People show their faces in conversations and actions; then, I know if I can trust them or not. Using Brazen Rule is simple and rarely leads to failure. For instance, when I entered a new job, a colleague gladly helped me get used to the environment and standard rules. It was pleasant to have someone patient and friendly, and sometime later, I offered her help with papers.

I know it is also essential to make the first step of kindness towards others, and I do that. What I try to avoid is the endless charity of my time, support, and help. People’s attitude does not depend on the amount of goodness you provide, as they quickly get the possibility to use someone’s charity. People respect and love you if you can be friendly and strict at the same time. That is why I chose the Brazen Rule over others. If you show too much sympathy, no one will remember you as a kind person; most likely, you will be perceived as a foolish man. This is my philosophy of life, and so far, it helps me build strong and trustworthy relationships in society. As Carl Sagan said, the Brazen Rule is similar to the Tit-for-tat Rule; the only difference between them is acting nicely on the first move. I perceive my actions following both of these rules as I am not always the first to start with a kind action.

Red Corp’s Prisoner’s Dilemma

In business strategy, it is essential to plan an action according to the final goal. Red Corp is in a position to either cooperate with the competitor or to make use of the data it has. As the consultant of Red Corp, I would advise sharing the information with Blue Corp; however, be prepared for any of their action back. In business, moral codes play a unique role as the market will refrain limited, and to make the business flourish, one has to cooperate with the other players on the field.

Moral choices are unavoidable; even if no action is taken, it is still a choice. Every employee and company’s leader will always face ethical issues as all the resources are potentially scarce, and there is no mutual unanimity regarding the ends that these should be used to achieve (Eabrasu, 2019). The market is limited so does the number of customers. That means if Red Corp decides to go after Blue Corp’s clients, the same will happen back. Then, it will be hard to evaluate which of the firms won in this war for clients as, primarily, both will lose. Winning several customers and losing several at the same time leads to the result of wasted energy, resources, time, and no benefit.

However, showing respect to the competitor by sharing the information Red Corp possesses can minimize these risks and save the honor, dignity, and reputation of Red Corp. Status is also significant on the market as one action aiming to steal several clients from a competitor will be, with a high probability, published in media. Current and potential customers are forming the opinion by company’s decisions and actions. According to Kashif et al. (2016), the relationship between managers and their customers is mainly based on trust, which becomes established with an image of ethicality in customers’ eyes and with their ethical behaviors. Showing disrespect to Blue Corp and trying to win in a foul play can negatively impact Red Corp and reduce its ratings.

As a consultant, I would still calculate all the possible movements of Blue Corp and plan the most beneficial ways of exiting the issues. It is essential as the situation is taking place in the business world, and staying on the scene, you have to respect a competitor while biting him before he decides to do the same. For instance, if Blue Corp chooses to use the information published online, Red Corp can start acting back. Having the access to the database for a longer time gives Red Corp an advantage in all future movements. Assessing all Carl Sagan’s rules, Tit-for-tat is the one that suits my advice. Starting with goodness, Red Corp can prevent conflict situations and show itself from a decent side that can attract new clients and raise its ratings.

Blue Corp’s Prisoner’s Dilemma

Nevertheless, if Red Corp decides to go after Blue Corp’s clients, it is reasonable to answer them similarly. Unfortunately, nowadays, you should be ready to show the same strength and power as your competitor in the business world. Otherwise, he will destroy you and take your place in the market. As a consultant, I would advise Blue Corp to follow the Brazen Rule as staying actionless can show weakness and uncertainty of the company. According to the study by Ferrell et al. (2018), customers were more concerned with the performance of the brand than corporate social responsibility. That means without responding to the movements of Rep Corp, Blue Crop can lose its ratings and customers’ favor. Even though I think Tit-for-tat Rule is the one that needs to be followed, every player on the scene should be flexible to the current changes in different situations. It is essential to start changes from yourself; however, when leading a company, you risk its value and outcomes.

Business ethics is still developing and is very young. Companies are afraid to step on the route with trustworthy relationships as, like in a prisoner’s dilemma, no one can be sure for partner’s actions. Hitting him first, we prevent the pain and losses from the same action done to us. What the modern world needs is the achievement of connections between people based on faith. It sounds like a utopia as it is complicated to make a deal with all the firms in the market. Playing hard is easy and profitable in a short-term perspective: the Iron Rule will eventually destroy your competitors if you are strong enough to hit hard. Still, let us think about long-term outcomes from this typical behavior.

Some might consider Enron Corporation’s collapse in 2001 was because of the guilt of its leaders and employees. However, at the same time, lawyers kept silent about Enron’s shenanigans, bankers kept loaning the company’s money. Shareholders encouraged workers and other investors to buy the firm’s stock, selling their shares parallelly as they knew Enron’s stock would eventually become worthless (Petra & Spieler, 2020). Everyone remembers the crisis in 2008, which was a true fiasco of the financial industry. No other business disaster created public anger and mistrust to companies, governments, and people who were attached to any of these financial products. If there was ever a crisis of trust and confidence, it was it (Nelson, 2021). Thus, in a long-term perspective, divorcing business from ethics and values leads to crisis, high risks, and control loss.

Current economics need morality and ethics to cooperate and manage to act on the scene with limited resources and customers. Most firms fight for client’s favor and respect, using the Iron Rule concurrently with competitors and showing dualism in its decision-making. The population wants fair interactions with financial workers protecting their profit and aiming to achieve their goals. People wish to have safe trades with the government, feel protected and calm. Frauds on an economic scale refer to mistrust and fear of the country’s population.

Explanation of My Advice and Its Variations

I follow Tit-for-tat Rule and the Brazen Rule, trying to balance in the middle between them. When giving advice to Rep Corp, I was following the same moral principles as I firmly believe business is one of the spheres of our live interconnected with other ones. There should be no exception to economic relations because any firm’s goal is to bring profit to customers and, consequently, to itself. Without clients’ satisfaction, there cannot be any company’s success and future growth. Moreover, business and economic movements are influencing the quality of life of citizens. It is hard to forget how a significant part of the population of the United States lost pension savings due to the appetite of those at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, AIG, and other financial companies. To avoid that, individuals have to start trustworthy relationships, especially in the business area.

From the other side, it is possible to imagine different circumstances to follow other rules and change the behavioral model. If Red Corp were asking for my advice during war conditions, I would prefer the Iron Rule, among others. We can try to change the system; however, the system sometimes can be stronger than us. War is always a “lose-lose” final as humanity fails in saving lives, resources, morality, and love. In this set of circumstances, the only goal is to survive whatever it takes. Firms during the war are usually fighting for a monopoly position in selling various goods. If no action is made, the risks are the fall of the company and your life. Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is essential to understand that moral codes retreat when self-security is in danger. Protecting ourselves is built in our nature, and nothing else can be considered at the same time. The more individuals report basic needs satisfaction, the greater their orientation to capacities for and actions toward cooperative, compassionate morality (Narvaez, 2018). Hence, war conditions set people in a survival mode, and morality and ethics have to step back to the background temporally.


Every human has a right to choose the rules to live by. Our personal goal is to learn to balance between “goodness” and “evilness”. Tit-for-tat Rule proposed by Carl Sagan helps to find the golden middle in communication with others. We need other people to survive in society and provide each other with help, continue the race. In the decision-making process, the prisoner’s dilemma will follow our minds as it is hard to trust other people and rely on them. If humanity reaches this level of mutual understanding and faith, it will be a lot easier to live and trust.

The business sphere also relates to our everyday life, and to achieve a high level of life quality, and we need to develop ethical principles and strengthen our relationships with each other. Governments should regulate work relations and connections with customers by law to support moral codes in the economic world. Nowadays, it is easy to break the moral principle, and people have to make an effort to choose a proper action. Moreover, even ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Socrates claimed that people do not always follow the rational thinking process they possess. Very often, people know what is right to do; however, they choose another way. It is also called a moral judgment-action gap, and ancient philosophers called it “akrasia.” Impregnating morality into our laws and developing these principles inside families will raise the level of belief between us. With cooperation and trust, the modern world would reach a different way of interconnections that will lead to self-development and improvement of the society.


Eabrasu, M. (2019). Moral disagreements in business. CSR, sustainability, ethics & governance. Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019.

Ferrell, O. C., Harrison, D. E., Ferrell, L., & Hair, J. F. (2018). Business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and brand attitudes: An exploratory study. Journal of Business Research, 95, 491-501. Web.

Kashif, M., Zarkada, A., & Ramayah, T. (2016). The impact of attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioural control on managers’ intentions to behave ethically. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 29(5-6), 481–501. Web.

Narvaez, D. (2018). Basic needs, wellbeing, and morality: Fulfilling human potential. Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018.

Nelson, K. A. (2021). Managing business ethics: Straight talk about how to do it right. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Petra, S., & Spieler, A. C. (2020). Accounting scandals: Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing. Corporate Fraud Exposed, 343–360. Web.

Sagan, C. (1993, November). A new way to think about the rules to live by. Parade Magazine, p.12.