In this essay I am going to talk about the business and business ethics about a movie called A Thousand Words. Jack, who is played by Eddie Murphy a world known Hollywood actor and comedian is an overly energetic, fast-talking, and committed agent who is known to closing even the most difficult of authors and other deals with celebrities into his agency. His main goal was to land the (as quoted in the movie by Jack in a meeting) “Most popular, nondenominational religious Deepak-Chopra like spiritual leader on the planet named Dr. Sinja” as his client. Jack claims he is the best agent in town. He also quotes “Hey, I can talk anybody into doing anything”. In order to sign him as his client, Jack lies and pretends to believe in Dr. Sinja’s philosophy and path towards inner peace. In addition, he tells his assistant that he does not read scripts and believes that the first five pages and the last pages of any script/book will judge if it’s worth having a look at it and signing a specific author or not. Later on that day, a mysterious tree shoots up in his back garden, and he notices that every word he says a leaf falls off from the tree.
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When Jack goes back to his office the following day, he gets shocking news from his assistant telling him that the book was a “quick read” and that it was five pages long. In this scenario, the first five pages and the last pages are the whole book, yet Jack still refuses to read it because he thinks it’s some kind of joke or prank on him by Dr. Sinja. Jack is looking for answers and asks Dr. Sinja for help when he realizes that he has about 1000 words left until he and leaf die. Dr. Sinja leaves for a spiritual retreat to Bolivia for three days as in the meantime advises Jack not to speak until he gets back and finds out about this problem. Unable to speak, write, or communicate with everyone in his life, jeopardizes his relationship with his wife, boss, and other colleagues in which results him losing his job (Sandie Angulo Chen, March 9, 2012).
Business ethics is the study of what is right and what is wrong, duty and obligation, moral norms, individual character, and responsibility but in the context of business. Jack has violated a few moral standards in order to achieve his dream signing. First, Jack lied to Dr. Sinja saying he has read the book before and that he is all for inner peace and spreading his wisdom and his words to the world. Another violation of the moral standards was putting his interest before the moral standards which is wrong. A moral standard at all times takes priority over one’s self interest no matter what. He quoted in the movie “Dr. Sinja: what’s it in for you? Jack: just the satisfaction of knowing that I helped my hero to save the worldâ€¦ and 10% of course”. Saying that shows that Jack was in it for the money all along. Knowing that he topped several celebrities in sales and potentially could be the next big thing, Jack has targeted him and is willing to do whatever it takes to sign him. Having said that, leads me to one of the theories in business ethics: Egoism. Egoism is a theory that believes in short term sacrifices in necessary to long term self-interest. There are two types of egoism; Ethical Egoism and Psychological Egoism. Ethical egoism is where a person chooses the way they behave. An individual who can do anything and as long as there is some sort of benefit as the end result all entirely based on one’s self-interest. Psychological egoism on the other hand is where an individual has behaved and acted. They perform something purely because they wanted to do it for their own self-interest. Mentioning the two sides to this theory, it is clear that Jack is an ethical egoist. With Jacks job being an agent, you will have to play the part of being nice and putting a “poker face” and lie in order to succeed in the business world. Albert Carr (a businessman) mentions this in the relativism and the ‘fame’ in business. He believes that business is a game and that business professionals are expected to follow a code that doesn’t relate to ethics in any way. He uses “poker” as an analogy of lying, or a bluff of some sort. For example; lying about one’s age on a CV, or using conscious misstatement, lie to sell products. Furthermore, Jack is doing just that in his company to achieve his goals. He chooses to behave in such a way to pretend that he is interested in their work and to boost up his status and salary bonus.
Another example in the movie as well is when Jack goes to a coffee shop and sees a long queue of people waiting to be served. He looks at his watch and realizes he is going to be late for work if he waits in line. He picks up his phone pretending to speak to his wife who allegedly is in labor. Therefore he shouts out loud saying: “hello? What? She’s in labor? Look I can’t miss the birth of my first child! I only went out to get some coffee! After shouting that out loud, he was let through by all the people waiting in line just so he can’t miss the birth of his “so-called” first child. When reaches the front of the line he is stopped by two tall grown constructor workers whom gave him a fearful look meaning you’re not going to cut in front of us. Jack at this point had to improvise and quick in order to get his coffee. On the spot he says: “Twins? Its twin! I’m having twins. I’m having twins. Thank you. It’s on the house? Thank you so much! Jack has quickly thought of a lie in order to get through and get his coffee. Jack not only makes his way through to skip the queue, but he also got his coffee for free as congratulation for the birth of his twins. We can also link this to the Albert Carr theory that he acted and played a ‘poker face’ to get what he wanted.
Lastly, within the theory of Egoism there is a difference between selfishness and self-interest. Selfishness disregards the needs of everyone else including people whose needs should be taken into account by doing something purely for your own satisfaction. Whereas self-interest; is a behavior on doing what’s best for you in order to achieve. Jack in this movie is a bit of both. For example: his valet guy who parks his car for him in the morning asks him if he has read his manuscript and Jack replied that he is getting closer to reading it because it has moved from his kitchen table to his nightstand and next to his toilet and that’s where it gets read he says (4:08-4:40mins in the movie). He didn’t read his book and yet was rude to him by telling him to park his car somewhere else because he doesn’t want bird feces on his car. Another example is when he gets back home and discusses to his wife about the house. She advises him to change houses because there is an open pool with no fence where on the other side is a cliff which has a drop of 2000 feet. His wife mentioned that she changes the babies diapers at the bar rather than a proper room for the child here it is user friendly. Jack agrees to make some changes but once again to his self interest instead of changing houses he told her that we could change up the media room into the baby’s room which the opposite of what his wife wanted(16:10-18:00mins).
Jack has violated a few of the moral standards and has created an ethical dilemma. These results in affecting the environment around him, the society and the people involved in his life. For example: his wife, his assistant, his client, and his colleagues. As mentioned earlier, Jack is aware and realizes he has only 1000 words left until Dr. Sinja comes back with a solution. This situation makes it difficult for jack to communicate with people at work and his family. Jack needs to use his words wisely and know when to speak. Whatever happens to the tree happens to him. As the tree loses its leaves, jacks gets more and more sick, and when the tress loses all its leaves it is known that the tree dies which could result in Jack dying a well because they are connected. One of many examples of this is when Jack goes in to grab coffee in the morning and cannot talk or explain to the guy what he wants. For that reason, Jack uses sign language to communicate with the guy and ends up buying several coffees because he didn’t understand the order (28:15-29:28mins).
Secondly, he approaches the road trying to cross onto the other side, where a blind man comes and asks him to advise him when it’s safe to go. At this point Jack is pressured and cannot talk to the guy. The guy asks him “could you tell me when it’s safe to cross? Are you deaf? I said can you tell me when it’s safe to cross?” Jack stands there in silence not know how to answer the guy, he hums to the guy meaning that it is not but the old guy misinterpreted what Jack was trying to say so he walked into the road while there was traffic flowing past by. Jack quickly reacted and went after him trying to help him cross the road while cars were driving by. In the process of that, Jack has dropped several of his coffees and when they reached the other side in one peace, a bus passing by smacked the last coffee in his hand resulting in him not getting not only the coffee that he ordered but any coffee in general. Following up on this example, Jack affected the society around him which included the old man almost getting run over by cars and also car drivers swerving left and right which can cause accidents on the road and affecting their lives.
Another example of Jack affecting the society is when his wife’s friend advises her to improve her relationship with her husband because he is slacking. So she rents a hotel room and tells her husband to meet her there. When Jack arrives, she tries to make love to him and get him to say ‘I love you’ but Jack once again fails to respond to her which jeopardizes their relationship and leaves things between them complicated and unsure of what might happen to their family. She’s scared that Jack has lost his love for her which worries her.
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The last example of Jack affecting the society is when two offers come in and he fails to close any deal between them due to the lack of words he says. He asks his assistant to talk for him in one meeting where it goes all wrong and they lose their offer. On top of that, Jack gets a second chance at closing the book deal, but when they found out that the book is only 5 pages long, they declined the offer and stormed off. After the incident, his boss looks at him and asks him why he failed to mention that the book was five pages long. Jack still remains in silence and does not answer her which led him to get fired from his job.
All in all, Jack has affected the society and the people around him to a point where he no longer has control of his situation. Towards the end he tries to explain his problem to his assistant who later monitors how many leaves he has left till it runs out and he dies. In the meantime, he goes around town trying to be nice and be moral and good person. For example: giving bread to the poor, giving money to charity, and trying to help a little girl get her cat from the tree in hopes that the leaves will stop falling from the tree. The problem with this, it is not done from pure goodness or performing ‘good will’. This leads us to “Kant’s theorem”, which focuses on the type of action rather than the consequence of the action. Goodness is the main requirement of the existence of the good will according to Kant. He believes that people should act morally regardless of the consequences. There is a difference between “Good will and Happiness”. For example: a person could be healthy, successful, have power, wealth, satisfied with his life, looks and considers himself a happy person. When people see this person they would assume he is a happy person and he’s doing well in life. According to Kant, he questions the matter whether this persons happiness have moral bases. He also states the absence of good will such as kindness, ability, to judge, courage, decisiveness and many others may result in these qualities in becoming “evil” because they are not supported by the good will. From Kant’s opinion a good will forms, the most essential condition not of being happy, but worthy to be happy. There are two types in where we can determine morality in any situation, and in order to do so we must do things according to certain maxim, such as Universal Acceptability and Ends and Means. Universal acceptability everyone globally should act upon a specific rule and follow the rules stated. Ends and means is where we treat people like how we want to be treated. For example if you ask someone to do you a favor, it’s only fair for you to reward or repay them back with the same effort they have put in to do that one thing for you, also to recognize their value of their hard work.
Jack in the beginning of the movie treated people as means rather than ends as well. He didn’t care of the people around him and used people by telling to do thing s for him and not appreciating their value of work and effort put in so that he gets what he asked for. Kant’s moral theory has application for organizations. Meaning just like other theories, they all have principles and approaches. Kant’s first principle points out that the categorical imperative (which are the universal acceptability and ends and means) gives us firm rules to follow in moral decision making. Second principle he introduces an important humanistic dimension into business decision, in other words forbids treating humans as means to ends. The third and last principle he stresses the importance of motivation and acting upon principles, which means doing the right thing is not necessarily enough. The individual has to perform an action that has moral worth and that it’s done with desire and real drive to do the right thing for its own sake.
After mentioning these theories, Jack realizes he is wasting his time and nothing working out. So he goes back to his house to find out his wife packed all her stuff and left. He goes upstairs and looks at old photos of his family and a few pictures of his dad. In the beginning of the movie he was against his dad and never forgave him for leaving him and his mom behind a long time ago. His father has passed away and many years later Jack still hasn’t forgiven his father for what he did to them. There was a picture of all three of them, he removed it from the photo album and went outside by the bodhie tree and started to pray. Jack meets Dr. Sinja at a diner to be let down hearing that Dr. Sinja couldn’t find a cure for this curse. Jack sits there helpless and feeble having lost his family and his job in the process of all this mess. Dr. Sinja asks him that there is a reason why he is still there, it’s because he wants to seek advice from him and the only advice he can give him was for Jack to find the truth about himself, to quiet his mind and only then will he find the out the truth. He then goes back to his house under the influence of alcohol and his assistant follows him there where he tells him to be quiet and to stop talking. Jack gets furious and starts singing and talking as revenge to the tree trying to waste the leaves so he dies. He wakes up the next morning with his mouth taped, walks up to the bodhie tree and starts crying, he asks the tree what to do by talking to it from his inner voice in his head. While watering the tree he sees a butterfly landing on Dr. Sinja’s book that he never read, so he sat down and started reading it. Later on that day, he visits his wife and with only a few words and facial expressions he shows her that he’ll be back and he truly loves her. On top of that, he goes back to the store where he usually gets his coffee in the morning and hands over a record of the Beatles which was the cashiers favorite CD/band. Also Jack heads to the valet guy that parks his car every morning and hands him his script saying that it was “brilliant” and “sold” with a cheque of $10,000 dollars, but when his car pulled up it was covered up in bird feces although didn’t care and carried on with his day. Jack does all this with good intentions and “good will” just like I mentioned in Kant’s theorem. When he visit his mother, he accepts the fact she thinks he is her husband Raymond. She notices he can’t speak so she starts speaking to him about how he was so angry at his father on leaving them and that he should forgive him and know that he father loved him and never stopped loving him. Mid way, she calls him jack and realizes that it was jack that visits her all along. Lastly, leaving to the cemetery to see his father’s grave, he prays and says his last three words which were “I forgive you”. Lightning struck and Jack McCall fell to the ground experiencing a heart attack. Soon after jack wakes up to the ringtone of his phone and it was his assistant informing him that all the leaves on the tree reappeared again and that he is able to talk again. In the end, Jack writes a book about is experience and named it “a thousand words”, Dr. Sinja was proud of him and his accomplishments, and his assistant took Jack’s place at work as an agent. When his assistant (now agent) finds out he has a delivery he tells them to bring it in and also mistreats his new assistant, but as they bring it in, it was another tree and he finds out that he going to be going through the same curse as his ex-boss Jack did because of his bad intentions. In addition, he gets his wife a brand new baby-friendly home by the suburbs like she always wanted and asked for earlier on in the movie and reconciled with his family again.
In conclusion, personally I think the best ethical and moral theory that Jack should have applied was “Utilitarianism”. It’s a theory in which if an action produced more good than bad then it is a good action. Although the theory is demanding under two reasons: to do the most and maximize values and also put aside personal self-interest. Jeremy Bentham who is known to be the ‘father’ or ‘founder’ of this theory believes in pleasure, quantity and temporary (short term) actions, whereas the ‘developer’ of the theory John Mill believed in happiness, quality, and long-term actions. I think John Mill’s theory is right and that Jack should consider happiness as well as other people’s happiness. This was just one of six points about the theory. Another point about it is an end justifies the means, which means anything is morally right if it brings better results in the end. Third point is to maximize happiness for a longer period of time. Fourth point is no-one can predict the future consequences regardless of the action implied. Moreover, should consider pleasure and pain as well as the others and not your own only. Lastly, the same action applied could give different results for different people. For example if you were to take action and take down a bad guy who is holding your sibling as hostage, the situation would be different and you would be hesitant and careful when taking down the bad guy rather than it being someone random that you don’t know. The principles of utility in organizational are: provides clear and straight forward basis for formulating and testing policies, in other words allows us to test their worth against standard utility, also provides objective and attractive ways resolving conflicts with self interest and looks at the general good and lastly provides flexible, result-oriented approach to moral decision-making because utility focuses on results. There are also two types of utilitarianism, “act utilitarianism” looks at the consequences each time an act is performed, whereas “rule utilitarianism” looks at the consequences each time anyone follows the rule by calculating if it is accepted or rejected. The disadvantages of this theory are that it doesn’t work properly because you are responsible of your actions; also some actions are wrong even though they produce good action. For example sacrificing a bad guy’s life for the sake of the hundreds he could have harmed, and lastly the theory is dubbed as unfair because it puts your emotions and self interest aside. Another theory I would think would apply is “Kant theorem” because it is all about doing things morally with good intentions, but the disadvantages are; it is very strict, if any act alone is based on self interest then it has no moral worth. Second disadvantage is regardless of the consequences we cannot lie to save our lives, no exceptions to the rules. Last disadvantage states that it is unfair; this is due to people being used as means in order to reach their ends.
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