Essay Sample on What Is a Moral Bucket List?

Published: 2023-01-04
Essay Sample on What Is a Moral Bucket List?
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Money Social psychology Human behavior Ethical dilemma
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 1928 words
17 min read

Since the coinage of the moral bucket by David Brooks (2015), it has been used interchangeably with the word moral compass. The compass tells a person what is right or wrong while the bucket list sets boundaries on what a person can or cannot do. The two are in some way different when defined like that. While the moral compass provides the person with clear-cut decision-making, a moral bucket list is akin to a weighing balance. The individual chooses what is right or wrong using set criteria. According to sociologists and psychologists, the determinants of such criteria are diverse.

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In an average person, there are those ethical boundaries that are cast in stone. They include; don't hurt other people intentionally, don't kill, do not demean other people, and such things. Unfortunately, the world is grey most of the times. You have to deal with situations that are not straightforward. For example, in business, you can decide to be honest or choose what you will be honest about. Assume Company A had revenues of $1 million in 2014, $7 million in 2017, and $3 million in 2018. When writing a publicity flier to investors, you will want to exclude 2018 figures. Instead, you will say that your company maintained a growth momentum of 150 percent year on year from 2014-2017, which is true. This types of narratives make things get grey.

In the movie, Trading Places, Russo and Landis (1983) show us a man, Winthorpe, who turns from being a racist and successful person to a 'good' person at the end of the movie. But is he really good? Picture this situation. There is a tendency to sympathize with his situation once his former employers (Duke Brothers) decide to turn his life upside down. Unfortunately, when he gets an opportunity to get back at them, he does not process the whole picture. He and his friend, Valentine, destroy Duke & Duke Company. After that horrible act, they celebrate about the takedown. Unfortunately, so many people lose their jobs in the process, but they seem not to care.

In this movie, we see Winthorpe, cornered to a point where he decides to do things that he usually wouldn't do such as steal, handle illicit drugs, and keep the company of hookers. According to Moore and Gino (2013), other people can pull you away from your ethical standpoint intentionally. In such a situation, you are just a guinea pig. It is not only in the world of business that the moral compass can be lost. Winthorpe was a good man, but racist nevertheless. He had a decent job in a decent company. However, we cannot say the same of his employers. They decide to turn the life of a good man upside down without emotions. They cause what Dombo, Gray, and Early (2013) call moral injury to the man whose life was perfect.

Some situations call for a change in the moral bucket list especially when no one gets hurt. The subtle moral issues such as eavesdropping conversations, making a horrible person miserable, occasional drunken stupor, and such things fall under this category. It is a common position that people get into once in a while in the cause of their daily lives. For example, David Brooks blames a mismatch between career expectations and the inner light. Though he wants to radiate and brighten other people's lives, it is not what his career needs. I also feel the same at times. For example, it is a common American tradition of not leaving money on the table. Briefly, it is obscene to charge a customer $10 when he or she is willing to pay $100. You have to charge $100 to be in line with societal expectations. When you are an entrepreneur, you curate what is relevant to your audience. You can prepare five different narratives depending on who is asking, all of which have an element of truth.

Therefore, morals can be challenged in several ways. From the above, once there is a conflict between what your moral compass and immediate need, you have to make a decision. People want gratification today and are likely to pick the latter. A man raised in a society that accepts racism is likely to adopt it as a standard. When Winthorpe calls Valentine a Negro, it does not click into him that he is wrong. Society supports his actions. He uses the Negro stereotype to assume that the man wanted to rob him of his briefcase. His moral compass is intact. Throughout history, these cases are ubiquitous. Even the greatest books of religion such as the Bible and Quran mention cases that resemble this one. In the bible, taking slaves is not a big deal. The same argument applies to the Quran. A person who lived during this era believed that it is okay to keep another person as a lesser human just because he or she is a servant. During the struggle for liberation, it became necessary to proclaim the fact that every man is equal. Did made make a significant statement? It did, yet it should be common sense. It became a norm to do unto others what you want other people to do to you.

Men have an inherent desire to change when confronted with a different dimension of life. According to Moore (2015), humans are naturally adaptive to the environment. Leavitt, Reynolds, Barnes, Schilpzand, and Hannah (2012) discovered that immediately the circumstances change, we are prone to shifts to our moral compass. The classic case is where the hunter becomes the hunted. If you are the hunter, you have your aim. When you are the hunted one, you start to dodge attacks. In such a situation, even hurting someone in the name of self-defense is justly on the cards. Sometimes we find overwhelming goodness in our daily endeavors, and we are amazed. Such a challenge can be confusing at times especially in this cutthroat consumerist culture that believes that more is merrier.

Money plays a significant role in the corruption of the moral bucket list. From where I come from, you need plenty of dollars to be treated like a human being. If you do not have it, people will treat wild animals better than they treat you. People who are cornered economically fail to find a moral voice. Inside them, they may know something is not good, but they do not dare to cut the hands that potentially feeds them. In almost all SEC filings of fraudulent cases on Wall Street, we have not heard of the significant other (spouses) playing a role other than that of seeing no evil. People will enjoy it while it lasts with the hope that you will not be caught. When they are caught, they will play victims. They will say you are punishing children for the sins of the offender. When the children were enjoying the proceeds of fraud, media commentators call them spoilt brats. When their parents face the law, social systems defend the people who enjoy the fruits of unethical practices.

Most of the time, the end justifies the means (Harris, 2010) especially when the alternative is unfathomable. In business, the ultimate goal is to make a profit. Failure to do so means that everyone who is part of the business suffers an uncertain future. Attempts to operate in an ethical sourcing environment can be expensive. If there are no other alternatives presently that are workable for such a company, the end will justify the means. Their survival will help them live to fight another day. My take in this one is that a person cannot resign to fate or put himself in illogical situations just to be on the right.

I am a firm believer that you should not starve if there is a tree-bearing fruit by the roadside. However, I am also a firm campaigner of consent and choice. You do not have to pluck the fruits from the tree without consent. It might surprise you to know that the owner of the tree might be willing to share his meal instead. Before you put someone at a disadvantage, you ought to give him or her a choice. If the fruit owner denies you a bite, that is a choice that you should respect. If it is a matter of life and death, you can take your chances, take just enough and sped off before you are caught.

Why do I think that the end is more important? Campbell and Goritz (2014) believe that culture defines the way you think. In this case, your immediate culture, work or social shapes your value system. The prevalent thinking in social, political, and economic circles hails the end. For example, how do you become a president? You have to sell your policies to people and hope they will listen. In an ideal world, it sounds easy. In the real world, selling policies will not cut it. You may need to highlight the bad things about your opponent. You may also need to disparage people associated with your opponents. Does this promote your moral compass? It probably does not, but you can be sure it creates drama, which sells in politics. In that case, you sacrifice nobility with the rewards of trending in the media. The same tradeoff will work in marketing and branding of products.

For every new perspective you get in life, it affects how you process future experiences and situations. Strohminger and Nichols (2014) believe in a core moral self that one identifies with. Events in life shape it for the better or worse. Striving to grow to be better should be on your moral bucket list. It should help you find the moral identity (Hannah, Thompson & Herbst, 2018) that permeates positivity throughout humanity.

During this semester, I have learned several things about myself that I did not know. I have tried to go back through history with the hope that I can identify myself in different historical times. I concur with Brooks that my moral fabric is like a free yarn that you can use to make whatever you want. However, your imagination is limited by the existence of a world of systems around. When you think of business, you start looking at it as a product of taxation, subject to rules and regulation of a country, and such things. I thought that moral compass radiates throughout every society only to find that it has a degree of relativism in it.


Brooks, D., (2015). The Moral Bucket List. New York Times.

Campbell, J. L., & Goritz, A. S. (2014). Culture corrupts! A qualitative study of organizational culture in corrupt organizations. Journal of business ethics, 120(3), 291-311.

Dombo, E. A., Gray, C., & Early, B. P. (2013). The trauma of moral injury: Beyond the battlefield. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 32(3), 197-210.

Hannah, S. T., Thompson, R. L., & Herbst, K. C. (2018). Moral identity complexity: Situated morality within and across work and social roles. Journal of Management, 0149206318814166.

Harris, P. (2010). Machiavelli and the global compass: Ends and means in ethics and leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 93(1), 131-138.

Leavitt, K., Reynolds, S. J., Barnes, C. M., Schilpzand, P., & Hannah, S. T. (2012). Different hats, different obligations: Plural occupational identities and situated moral judgments. Academy of Management Journal, 55(6), 1316-1333.

Moore, C. (2015). Moral disengagement. Current Opinion in Psychology, 6(1), 199-204.

Moore, C., & Gino, F. (2013). Ethically adrift: How others pull our moral compass from true North, and how we can fix it. Research in organizational behavior, 33(1), 53-77.

Russo, A (Producer) &. Landis, J. (Director), (1983). Trading Places. [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

Strohminger, N., & Nichols, S. (2014). The essential moral self. Cognition, 131(1), 159-171.

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