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Slippage toward corporate scandal begins at home, Barna poll finds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Mom and dad could have done more to prevent corporate scandal, according to a poll released by the Barna Research Group.

The importance of a person’s upbringing — as the mirror to one’s character and values — was underscored in Barna polling of 1,012 adults during the first half of July.

Nearly three-fourths of the respondents (72 percent) chose “parents spending more time teaching their children appropriate values” over five other factors that could have reduced the ethical problems that have rocked corporate America.

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) selected the need for America to have had a stronger moral foundation.

The other choices: stricter enforcement of existing government regulations, tapped first by 55 percent of the respondents; instituting more demanding regulations, 50 percent; providing religious training in schools, 41 percent; and providing business executives with better training in morals and ethics, 40 percent.

“More than many people want to admit, how we train our children determines their values, views and behaviors as adults,” Barna said in a July 22 news release. “If you want a moral society, you must develop it by raising children who understand and embrace good values and standards. Leadership based on consensus is always prone to satisfying the lowest moral standard. Leadership based on firm and unchanging standards of virtue never goes wrong.”

Barna also noted: “Skills can be learned but character is a reflection of the heart that is formed from a person’s early years and emerges as they age. As society becomes more complex and fast-paced, one of our coping mechanisms is to assign heightened degrees of authority and trust to our leaders. We are seeing increasing numbers of people recognizing that political solutions are short-term fixes for deeper problems and issues. Americans are searching for leaders whose character makes them trustworthy.”

Among other findings from the Barna poll:

— Surprisingly few differences were found in perspective between born-again Christians and other adults in relation to the recent moral crises in corporate America.

“It is in times of crisis — whether it be terrorist attacks, financial abuses, sexual scandals or ludicrous judicial rulings — that a foundation of firmly held moral convictions rises to the surface and serves as a rallying point for millions of otherwise contentious or disconnected people,” Barna said. “Sometimes it takes some pain and suffering to nudge people to an understanding of what they really believe and what truly matters in life.”

— Asked to describe their level of confidence in various types of opinion shapers and cultural influencers, only teachers were awarded “complete confidence” or “a lot of confidence” by at least half of the public (53 percent).

At the bottom of the list were executives of large corporations; 12 percent of the respondents registered “complete” or “a lot of confidence” in them — compared to small business owners, with a combined 41 percent confidence tally.

Among other influencers, the producers, directors and writers of TV and films had a 13 percent confidence rating; elected government officials, 18 percent; and news reporters and journalists, 20 percent.

Barna, in a newly-released book on leadership challenges and practices, “A Fish Out of Water,” notes that the primary means of gaining people’s trust and confidence is by demonstrating strong character. “People rely upon their leaders, whether they are in the business sector, in ministry, government or within their own family, to model virtuous behavior and appropriate values.

“By virtue of the opportunities they encounter, every leader will be tempted to grab for power, prestige, publicity or other perks.

“What separates the good from the bad is not their skills and abilities,” Barna notes, “but their character — and there are always cues that reflect the person’s true inner nature. When commitment to profits and position trump commitment to propriety and purity of motive, such moral failures are virtually inevitable.”

— People 55 and older have experienced a severe erosion in trust.

According to the Barna data, only 1 percent of those 55 and older had “complete” or “a lot” of confidence in corporate executives.

Restoring “lost trust is [an] extremely difficult” challenge among America’s older citizens, the Barna news release stated, noting that among other influencers, trust levels ranged from highs of 22 percent for teachers, according to those 55 and older; 19 percent for small business owners; 16 percent for ministers and priests; 7 percent for news reporters and journalists; 7 percent for elected government officials, and 4 percent for producers, directors and writers of TV and films.

The Barna data carries a plus-or-minus 4.5 percent sampling error at the 95 percent confidence level.