Conflict of Interest: Seek Truth, Loving One Another
As a psychologist performing evaluations for the Family Court, I make sure that clients know I cannot recommend treatment or service for them and then be the provider of that treatment or service—it is obvious the prospect of earning more money providing services later could, consciously or unconsciously, cloud my judgment about what they really need, and there are rules in place to prevent this. It is common in many work settings to be asked to declare conflicts of interest which we may have, in regard to ourselves or family members. While as a meeting we do not ask members to sign a statement or make a formal declaration of conflicts of interest, in many organizations this is routinely expected. Working for the Federal government, I had to complete an annual financial disclosure form listing my own and my spouse’s assets, debts and sources of income. As a member of the Friends Center Board I must annually declare any financial or other interests that would potentially conflict with my role as a Board member.
As Friends we seek to be fair and just, to avoid acting out of our own self-interest to the detriment of others. As human beings it is difficult to succeed in this all the time. We have rules or processes or customs to support our efforts. For example, a check from the Meeting’s checking account is written by the secretary, but must be signed by the treasurer, and at some later time the auditor periodically reviews all the meeting’s accounts to ensure money has been managed properly. This keeps people safer from temptation, and protects our community.
When the work of a committee or of the meeting involves decisions which might lead to monetary or other benefits going to a member, we may run into another kind of conflict of interest. Our affection for a person may be in conflict with another value or concern; our desire for our friend to have something they may want may conflict with the best interests of the meeting or of all involved.
How do we hold ourselves to recognize these conflicts, to hold ourselves accountable for not shying away from asking difficult, awkward, but necessary, questions? How do we encourage one another to raise the delicate issues, despite the risk of possibly causing embarrassment or offense, issues that must be addressed as part of holding one another accountable and thus protecting one another? Should we ensure that such discussions are held at least in part without the potential beneficiary being present in the room, so that doubts or qualms can be expressed with less worry about hurting their feelings?
This issue extends beyond situations involving money and tangible benefits. Do we speak out honestly in Meeting for Business or in a committee meeting when our views appear to be in conflict with those of someone we care about personally, someone who we fear we might offend or dismay? How do we hold ourselves accountable to testing and following the leadings of spirit, and to maintaining integrity? How do we as Friends lovingly hold one another accountable and protect one other from being under the cloud of perceived compromise of integrity?
These thoughts were shared with the Meeting for Business in November as an offering for Quaker Continuing. The Clerk is presenting it in these pages for those who were not in attendance.