By the Company

By the Company September 22, 2017

You can tell a lot about a person

The phrase in the meme – “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep working for” – is inspired by a similar quip shared by Horace Jeffery Hodges on the blog Gypsy Scholarship. I really loved the way his mind worked, starting with the phrase “you can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep” and then seeing how a sting could be added to its tail by continuing the sentence.

In making the meme, I chose four companies that have made news headlines in relation to their unethical behavior. The risk of doing so, of singling out a few examples, is of course the possibility that some might think that I am exonerating others, or even affirming any particular accusations that have been made against these companies. That is not the case. And at any rate, it is not only the big corporations that do wrong, nor do all big corporations always by definition prove less ethical than others.

But ethics are a tangled mess. It is easy to criticize others who continue to remain employed where they are, and to never turn that critical gaze upon ourselves. And it is not necessarily the case, in my opinion, that simply working for a company indicates that one is complicit. If someone spent their career trying to change things from the inside, that person ought not to be criticized.

Also, some of you will recall that I have long wanted to write a book, perhaps titled A Year of Living Justly, but haven’t pursued it precisely because I feel that I don’t have the time or resources to genuinely trace the tangled web of injustice that connects me not just to where I work but to other companies, food, clothing, tech devices, and so much more.

And so let’s just ask the question, assuming that the words on the meme are true. What does my place of employment say about me? What does your place of employment say about you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Matthew Funke

    I can conclude that you’re probably not independently wealthy, and need to do what other people tell you to do in exchange for money. 😉

    Other than that, honestly, not much. Maybe you work for a company, and you’re ignorant about how the rest of the world sees it. Maybe you work for an evil company, and you hope to change how things work through your example or your management. (Maybe you work for a good company, and you hope to change things.) Maybe you like the prestige of your company, or maybe you like that your company doesn’t have much prestige and can still make its own mark in the world. Because motivations and actions are separate things, it seems to me at first blush that it would be hard to tell much of anything about who you are as a person based solely on your place of employment.

    That’s why I’ve tried to veer away from standard small-talk questions like “So where do you work?” in favor of others like “What do you get excited about?”

  • Michael Wilson

    Hmm, I worry seeing Monsanto up there as criticism of them tends to inspired by junk science anti gmo hysteria.

    Some companies by nature are evil, but I try not criticize poor people work decisions. I wouldn’t expect a tobacco picker to give up work because cigarettes kill. But if your crafting adds to sell it you gotta wonder about your soul. Further, since your almost always going to working for people, your going to be working for ethically challenged greedy people.

    Even as a professor you have to question the ethics of encouraging kids to borrow tens of thousands and the ever increasing price of education designed to gobble up all those easy to acquire loan dollars.

  • Christopher John Sissons
  • It seems like working for a large company, if employed for many years, is a little like living in your country. In neither do you necessarily approve of some actions by your leaders, but you seek to help your nation or your company to be what it ought to be.

    Of course, I’m speaking of an imperfect company or government. IF the company or nation becomes centrally, overtly unethical, then one ought to leave.

    For instance, I once was told by our boss to lie to the federal government. I didn’t, but I didn’t quit, because this unethical order was an exception, not a standard policy.

    On the other hand, once I worked for a backpacking-camping store and worked my way up to being an assistant buyer. We sold plenty of knives, including daggers and weapons. Since I was committed to peacemaking, I realized that this conflicted with my central ethical views, so I resigned, even though I did like other aspects of the company.