Mika Launikari


Finders, keepers? Values, ethics and culture in decision making

Published on and modified on

Finders, keepers is an English adage with the premise that when something is abandoned or unowned, whoever finds it, can claim it. However, it can be of great difficulty to define when exactly something (of value) can be considered unowned or abandoned. Occasionally this uncertainty may even result in legal disputes or at least in ethical dilemmas, when people happen to hold a different understanding of who legally or morally has the right to keep or possess the item found.

In summer 2009, Swedish berry pickers found a bag containing money worth more than 10.000 euros (i.e. 100.000 Swedish kronor) in the woods (link to the Swedish newpaper). As I was fascinated by what had happened in Sweden, I decided to share the story over a coffee break with some of my international colleagues, with whom I was working at that time. Without first revealing what the Swedish berry pickers had actually decided to do with the money, I briefly described the circumstances of the particular case to find out what my colleagues would have done in the given situation had they been the “lucky” ones to find the money in the forest (N.B. the Swedish berry pickers informed the police about their discovery).

After the “tour de table” among us, the result was that some of us would have followed the principle of “finders, keepers”, whereas some others not. The conclusion we made was that regardless of the fact that it probably was stolen money initially, but as it was not stolen by any of us, those who wanted to keep it, could have done so without any major moral concerns. So, the well-known proverb Opportunity makes a thief  is suggesting that anybody would steal, given a chance to do so without being punished. The key here is that do what you do, but do not get caught.

However, we were fully aware that the Swedish berry pickers had been in the forest as a group instead of having been there individually when finding the “treasure”. This of course completely changes the situation in relation to decision making and brings the group dynamics and power relations into play (e.g. Forsyth, 2009). In our case, had we all been there together, we realized that those colleagues who were in favour of reporting the discovery to the police, would have been jeopardizing the attempt of the others to keep the “catch of the day”.

Impact of values and ethics on choice

So, when should we make an effort to find the rightful owner in case of found cash? There is a point, obviously, where the amount of found money becomes far too much that not turning it in to the police becomes an ethical issue. But how to define that critical point and whose judgement should be trusted or relied on? Do the social standards provide any ethical guidelines for this purpose? After all, isn’t it our values that influence how we people make choices? How does this relate to a multicultural reality in which people from all corners of the world come together and represent a different value base?

As we know, ethical standards, moral norms and values are obtained through the enculturation process and although they manifest themselves as pretty stable perceptions that shape and influence our behaviours, they are continuously being (re-)negotiated (e.g. Holliday, 2011). Also the fact that ethical standards and values vary across cultures and from one person to another, make us humans respond slightly differently to whatever is happening in our daily environment. Therefore, we may not forget the impact that our social constructs (such as values and ethics) have on our choice, for instance, on whether or not to commit a criminal act (e.g. a decision to keep a significant amount of found cash in our possession). (Henry, 2009)

Petrick and Quinn (1997) address ethical awareness as a capacity to be responsive to moral issues that call for consideration in making choices that will have a major impact on other people. Further, ethical awareness, as the authors continue, applies to the consequences of decisions and actions as well as the processes used to achieve them. Generally speaking, ethical standards are the norms of our social environment that are acceptable to and shared by the majority of people. Within a society, those who ignore to adhere to ethical standards and are found guilty of unethical behaviour will have to deal with sanctions dictated by legislation (Henry, 2009), or within an in-group corrective action is normally taken by the other members/peers to affect positive change in a misbehaving person’s conduct and to eliminate the cause of nonconformities to prevent recurrence (e.g. Johannesen & al. 2008). 

Finally, McClelland (2010) states that, regardless of our gender, culture, or age, there are three social needs that motivate us in an ethical decision-making situation: achievement, affiliation, and power. One of these will be our dominant motivating driver, which usually is largely dependent on our culture and life experiences. However, ethical decision-making involves finding a balance, yet it should discard bad choices in favour of good ones and always consider what is reasonable to be done in the given circumstances. Regardless of the individual driving force, the generally agreed mores and ethical rules that are accepted as good by the majority should be acknowledged and they should serve as a basis for taking collectively a decision ethically as correct as possible.


Forsyth, D. R. (2009). Group Dynamics. Fifth Edition. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.
Henry, S. (2009). Social construction of crime. In J. Miller (Ed.). 21st Century criminology: A reference handbook. Thousand Oaks. SAGE Publications.
Holliday, A. (2011). Intercultural Communication and Ideology. Thousand Oaks. SAGE Publications.
Johannesen, R.L., Valde, K.S. & Whedbee, K.E. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication. Sixth edition. Waveland Press Inc., Long Grove, Illinois, USA.
McClelland, D.C. (2010, reprint of 1961). The Achieving Society. Martino Fine Books, USA.
Petrick, J. A. & Quinn, J. F. (1997). Management Ethics: Integrity at Work. Sage Series in Business Ethics, Thousand Oaks, CA.


Good manners are always in style

Published on and modified on

Clarence Thomas has said that good manners will open doors that the best education cannot. But how can we define good manners or what we understand by good manners? In broad terms, they are said to be well-established standards of proper conduct in social life and in all human interaction. Luckily manners and etiquette are not out of reach for anybody as they can be learnt, acquired and cultivated by each one of us. Good manners, however, are not uniform as at least to a certain extent they vary across generations, regions, countries and cultures; an observation and experience that most of us have definitely made already.

But is it a must always to know exactly what the etiquette, the code of behavior, that delineates expectations for social behaviour, is saying about the contemporary conventional norms and standards within a society? Is it even possible to learn all these rules and master them perfectly without ever making any mistakes when interacting with other people in our everyday life? Don’t we all sometimes violate these behavioural rules and don’t we all every now and then misbehave ourselves? Indeed we do and still we are usually forgiven by the others for our occasionally not-so-elegant or polite conduct!

Exactly this was the starting point for the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) when it set up an expert group a year ago to produce a publication on good manners for 13-19 year old pupils and students at educational institutions in Finland. The idea with the publication was neither to emphasise “this is correct and that is incorrect behaviour”, nor to list what are the “dos” and the “don’ts”. A slightly different approach was chosen to discuss from a teenager’s perspective the topic of good manners, proper behaviour and not grossing people out.

The booklet contains seven stories where young people face problems, challenges and difficulties that they have to deal with, such as teenage pregnancy, shoplifting, bullying, emerging homosexual identity, death of a family member, job interview, excess drinking and partying. The booklet with its Finnish and Swedish titles (FI: Pientä säätöö!!; SE: Lite koll!!) conveys a positive message that although sometimes mistakes occur to all of us, it is not the end of the world, but we can fix them and learn from them. The questions and exercises after each story help youngsters (and their teachers and parents) to reflect on behavioural aspects presented in the text. In summary, people who know how to handle themselves in social situations feel confident about themselves and can act as role models to the rest of the gang.

The booklet in Finnish is available in hardcopy since November 2014 (orders can be placed through this link), and the Swedish language version since December 2014 (orders through this link). (Publisher: Finnish National Board of Education; Author: Mika Launikari). N.B. The Finnish and Swedish titles of the publication (FI: Pientä säätöö!!; SE: Lite koll!!) translated into English would mean more or less “An eye for manners”, although the word “manners” is not explicitly highlighted in those two language versions.

Birds of a feather flock together - A challenge to intercultural encounters?

Published on and modified on

“Birds of a feather flock together” is an idiom(1) that exists in several languages and can be interpreted as people with a similar socio-economic and cultural background resembling each other and therefore presumably “playing” well together. This very idiom clearly demonstrates how we construct us and our in-group and that way create the other and otherness from which we want to separate and disconnect ourselves. Another well-known proverb(2) “Birth is much, breeding is more” indicates that since the very first moment we are born, our environment and the upbringing (incl. formal education) we receive are shaping our identities and consequently influencing our attitudes, beliefs, behaviour, values, and most importantly our sense of belonging to a group of people to whom we happen to relate for one or another reason.

As part of this enculturation process – especially if we lack criticism and adult guidance as children and youngsters – we may adopt intolerant and discriminative attitudes as a norm without being able to judge the incorrectness of such conduct. Usually the acquisition of cultural categories is to a large degree an unconscious process, as Dundes Renteln (2005) describes, and therefore individuals are mostly unaware of having internalized them. Thus, the more people only stick to their own cultural home-base, where they can easily and lazily live with autopilot mode on, the more their (bad) habits and behaviours become automatic and repetitive. This indeed can have a negative impact on their readiness and willingness to deal with unexpected changes and challenges originating from their external environment.

What happens when we have to leave our comfort zone, the safety and security provided by our in-group, and encounter somebody representing the other? What if this other is an individual with a completely different background than ours as regards his/her country of origin, language, worldview, life experience, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.?  Do we in such a situation manage to cope with the fear factor that may make us feel threatened by the unknown other? Will we in such an intercultural encounter be able to think rationally and decide consciously on building the relationship upon similarities rather than focusing on any visible or invisible differences? This is probably easier said than done as, for example, Lavancy et al. (2011) point out, there are complex mechanisms of social categorization in the human mind that result in othering processes (i.e. opposition between us and them), which often may create tension, anxiety and intolerance in situations of intercultural interaction.

But don’t we too often and too hastily assume that culture is static and explains everything and in so doing gives us the perfect excuse to continue being ignorant towards what is actually taking place and eventually going totally wrong in an intercultural encounter? Isn’t it pretty convenient to think that as my own behaviour is valid conduct in my own country and in my own social network, it is therefore justified in any other context as well, and thus there is absolutely no reason for me to modify my behavioural conduct (rather the other should change and adapt to my behaviour!)? The famous Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede (2002) quite correctly claims that culture does not exist as such, but is a dynamic, ever-changing construct. As long as culture proves its utility by explaining and predicting behaviour, it serves its proper function. However, as soon as it fails to do so, it is to be dropped or traded for something better. Hofstede continues that culture is often redundant, and that other factors (such as economic, political or institutional) offer better explanations. But sometimes they do not, and then the construct of culture is needed to understand and interpret human interaction.

Dervin (2014) highlights the evolutionary nature of cultures and that every single culture is constantly co-constructed by people participating in it through their actions and discourses. This leads to regarding people as actors actively involved in negotiating representations on themselves, their life experiences and their daily environment, and moves away from seeing them purely as cultural objects. In this setting, the term “intercultural” becomes even more essential as it is strongly suggesting that everything is negotiated between (“inter”) people and that their identities are constantly transforming through the ongoing process of human interaction. In this respect, interculturality should be observed as a vivid and dynamic relationship for negotiating images of the self and the other (incl. cultures, languages, worldviews, religions, …) instead of relying on them as explanatory static elements. This allows us to conclude that any culture or any identity is a result of co-creation between individuals representing a wide variety of different backgrounds, and thus we all are doers giving our input to “designing” our joint culture in a highly globalized world (Dervin & Gao, 2012).


(1) For example, in Swedish: « Lika barn leka bäst. »; German: « Die Vögel gesellen sich zu ihres gleichen. »; Latin: « Pares cum paribus facillime congregantur. »; French: « Les oiseuax de même couleur se cherchent volontiers. »; Spanish: «  Yo como tú, tú como yo, diablo nos juntó. »

(2) In French : « La naissance ne fait pas la noblesse. » ; German : « Nicht Geburt macht den Adel. »


Dervin, F. (2014). Exploring “new” interculturality online. In Language and Intercultural Communication, 14:2, 191-206.

Dervin, F. & Gao, M. (2012). Constructing a fairy tale around intercultural couplehood on Chinese television. In Language and Intercultural Communication, 12:1, 6-23.

Dundes Renteln, A. (2005). The Use and Abuse of the Cultural Defense. In Canadian Journal of Law and Soceity. Volume 20, Number 1, pp. 47-67.

Hofstede, G. (2002). Dimensions do not exist: A reply to Brendan McSweeney.

Lavancy, A., Gajardo, A. & Dervin, F. (Eds., 2011). Interculturality at stake. Politics of Interculturality. Newcastle: CSP