Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
state for rectifying the congestion, which it achieved by transferring the energy in the right
direction. ‘Fat Boy’ stood for the transfer of more energy than the customers needed and
subsequent delivery of the remainder to state businesses with a shortage at a higher price.
A ‘Ricochet’ referred to a process of purchasing energy in California, subsequently selling it
to an intermediary outside the state, importing it back at a somewhat higher price and inally
selling it for a very high price in California, because there was a large energy deicit. At this
time the forests of California were on ire and traders were celebrating because this drove up
the price of energy. A trader spoke the legendary words: ‘Burn, baby, burn. That’s a beautiful
On the one hand we can use language to free bad behavior of its moral connotations, and on
the other hand we can invent terms precisely to get a moral message across. Varda Liberman
and colleagues carried out an experiment that demonstrates that a name can inluence
our behavior. The participants were invited to play a game. Half were told that they were
going to play the ‘Wall Street Game’ and the other half were told they would be playing the
‘Community Game’. Both games were exactly the same. The only difference was the name.
The researchers investigated the extent to which the players were competitive (tried to trump
other players) or cooperative (tried to help other players).
Of the participants playing the Wall Street Game, almost two-thirds played competitively.
In the Community Game the igure was just one-third, 50 percent less. The researchers
had assessed the participants in advance as to their tendency to compete or cooperate.
The competitive participants turned out not to be more competitive than the cooperative
participants in either game. In fact, the competitive participants were even a little more
cooperative in the Community Game.
Names send a powerful message as to what behavior is accepted, and therefore inluence
behavior. As in the previous chapters, it turns out that small changes can have signiicant
consequences. Just giving the game a different name determines whether two-thirds of the
players are competitive or cooperative. The names we give things state not only how we see
them, but also how we and others should see them, which subsequently inluences behavior.
Do we speak, for example, of our ‘manager’, ‘boss’, ‘superior’, ‘leader’ or ‘president’? Do we
talk about a ‘customer’, ‘client’, ‘buyer’ or ‘consumer’? When, for example, in the education
11.The name of the game: euphemisms and spoilsports