Campus - 19.12.2017 - 00:00 

Kalle's responsibilities and the economy's responsibilities

Kalle, a four-month old new St.Gallen's citizen, is a guide dog in training. His master, Professor of Business Ethics at the HSG, describes his future activities and draws analogies with our responsibilities in business and society in this guest contribution.

19 December 2017. The St.Gallen citizens may have met this little rascal in the last few weeks. Kalle, a four-month-old Labrador puppy, adorns a striking orange sash from the foundation East Swiss Guide Dog School, because after his training he will help visually impaired people through their everyday lives. I myself am a dog sponsor and have looked after Kalle for about a year. He will subsequently be prepared for his future task by a professional instructor or an instructor for guide dogs. My employer, the University of St.Gallen, has given me a licence to take Kalle with me while performing my research and teaching. This is officially called "Dogs in the workplace". And Kalle is with me almost everywhere: at lectures, meetings, talks, international conferences, and so on...

"Tell me, what do you have to teach a dog like that?"

A colleague asked me recently: "Tell me, what do you have to teach a dog like that?" I answered something quickly and cheekily: "Basically the same thing I need to teach our students: sit, stay, and don't pee in the apartment." The colleague smirked knowing that I can sometimes be cynical and that this flippant comment was not directed at our students. Rather, it alluded to parts of the curriculum, which are far too geared towards learning by rote as opposed to critical reflection.

However, it's more complicated than this brief dialogue makes it appear, both in terms of guide dog training as well as in terms of study and beyond. What is important in the education of Kalle and his friends, and what lessons can be learned for the education (and not just training) of students and their future activities and leadership roles in business and society?

Kalle and making a (positive) difference in society
First of all, guide dogs are "working dogs" or "service dogs". This is the very factual classifications of this type of animal. I will come back to the sobriety of these words a little later, but they initially point to something important: Kalle will eventually make a (positive) difference in this society; here: he will specifically help a visually impaired person. In a figurative sense, this applies to students as future leaders and analogously to all of us. The emphasis here is on "in this society". The particular interests of individual players are not central, e.g. the maximisation of profits for a company. If an economy does not want to be "everyone against everyone else", but in the truest sense of the word "life-serving", then it is about a "service" to society.

Without adherence to the rules, no team will work.

Secondly, you can probably imagine that a high level of discipline is required of guide dogs. Accordingly, during the training, rules are practised and drilled, which must be observed. Stopping at pedestrian crossings or stairs in order to indicate that they are there, assisting with getting on the buses and trains, and not doing their "business" on the pavement, are just a few examples that, if ignored, can lead to trouble or even substantial danger. Without adherence to the rules no team will work. Without compliance with legal and moral rules, no organisation or society will work. Various corporate scandals in recent years give the impression that some people and some companies interpret legal and moral requirements as suggestions rather than as a duty to act according to them. A human-dog team cannot afford this. Our society cannot afford it either.

Intelligent disobedience

But is it, thirdly, just about sticking to defined rules? A very fascinating skill that trained guide dogs have is their so-called intelligent disobedience. The dog will deliberately defy the command of an owner when it perceives an overriding risk. For example: The traffic light signals free passage, but a driver comes to a standstill too late or misses the red signal completely. Intelligent or - with reference to our human communities - civil disobedience for the purpose of a truly civil society is important, because acting responsibly does not mean merely adhering to the rules, but rather it always involves reflecting individually on right and wrong, good and evil. Ethics is not "adhering to guidelines", so rules should not just be indiscriminately followed. Neither the dog nor the human being are fundamentally disobedient, but rather they have a connection to each other and the right thing to do.

Human relations make a life worth living
Fourthly, Jorge Moreno, Managing Director of the Foundation Ostschweizerische Blindenführhundeschule, once asked me, "What is the most important thing in the training and later work of dogs?" I thought and hesitated; He quickly helped me out. "A trusting relationship between man and dog," was his answer. Therefore, guide dogs are not just working dogs. I could have thought of it myself, because it is no different in economy and society. Companies that view their employees simply as a human resource and, accordingly, only treat them as a factor in production, act in an economically shortsighted and irresponsible manner. Customers who have no confidence in objectively and technically correct advice from their bank turn in the medium term to the competition. Students who leave their studies feeling isolated and maximise their final grade with the least possible effort are simply out of place at a university. Human relationships make life worth living, and they also require each and every one of us to deal with ourselves, question ourselves, and get ahead a bit.

"Seeing eye dog" is a nice term for what it means in many ways: Walking around the world sensitively and perceptively, while adhering to fundamental rules, but not closing your eyes to grievances, but rather engaging and raising your voice: Woof woof!

Thomas Beschorner is Professor of Business Ethics and Director of the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St.Gallen.

Further information about guide dog training:
The Foundation Ostschweizerische Blindenführhundeschule (OBS), based in Goldach on Lake Constance, has been training guide dogs since 1997. The cost of training a dog for a good two years comes to around 60,000 francs. Dog Godfathers work on a voluntary basis.

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