Tribal bonds

I recently returned from the latest ECI Fellows meeting, which focused on behavioral ethics. This post is part of a series where I share my insights and lessons from the meeting.


There is a story about a United States Marine who halted a fellow soldier about to commit a war crime by saying “Stop! This is not what Marines do.”

The Marine didn’t pull out a copy of the Geneva Conventions and point to a specific article prohibiting the conduct. He simply explained that “people like us don’t do things like this.”

It’s tempting to point to the law when we want people to do or not do something. But no one likes to be told what to do. We’d rather feel in control. At the same time, we want to belong, we want to be part of a group where “people like us do things like this.”

Consider this the next time you write a policy or create a training or implement a control. Are you pointing to a force external to the group (like a law) or are you drawing on a tribal bond? One is stronger than the other.

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