Corporate Greed and Corruption: A Lesson From King Midas

Corporate executives in America have invited the temptations of greed and corruption to cloud decision making which has betrayed the trust of the American people. It is an alarming trend for American

corporations to conduct less than ethical business practices and what seems to be an unholy alliance of CEOs, politicians, lobbyists, and Wall Street bankers who have shown a wicked disregard for employees and investor interests. Only in recent years, through legislation, have government agencies been put in place solely for monitoring illegal business practices by large corporations. With these acts by the government, the spotlight has been cast on avaricious executives from companies such as Enron, Tyco, Adelphia and WorldCom, just to name a few. Greed has transformed these ambitious business executives into money hungry monsters who will lie, cheat and steal to achieve financial wealth. Author Ronald R. Sims wrote in his publication, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility: Why Giants Fall, “The history of U.S. business is riddled with sordid tales of magnates who went to any length in their quest for success, in the process destroying not only the country’s natural resources and the public’s trust but also the hopes and dreams of millions of people. For example, John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, regularly bribed politicians and stepped over others in his quest to monopolize the oil industry. Of course, unsavory business practices are not merely a relic of the past….Clearly, human greed has not faded from the business scene”(Sims ).

Greed was a consuming force understood by ancient societies as an intangible force embedded deep within human instinct–a desire for worldly riches. An irresistible temptation for the exultation of worldly possessions as a measure of one’s success in life has become a normal part of modern society. Corporate greed on this scale is taking the pursuit of the American “dream” a little too extreme. When examining the story of King Midas, corporate America should take heed to the truths it reveals about the consequence of greedy intentions.
The myth about King Midas begins when he received the golden touch from Dionysus, god of the life force. Dionysus was associated with intoxication and was followed by a group of satyrs — half human, half goat creatures with a lust for wine and sexual pleasures. The leader of the satyrs, Silenus, was entrusted with educating Dionysus. One day, Silenus became drunk and passed out in Midas’ rose garden. The peasants found him and brought him to the great King Midas. Lucky for Silenus, Midas recognized him and treated him with great generosity for ten days and nights. On the eleventh day, Silenus was safely reunited with his pupil, Dionysus. Dionysus was grateful; he decided to reward Midas for his hospitality and as a reward granted him one wish. Midas wished that everything he touched would be turned into gold. Dionysus warned him about the consequences of his decision, but Midas was too distracted with the insatiable idea of being surrounded by gold. Dionysus reluctantly gave him the gift of the golden touch. Initially, King Midas was thrilled with his new gift and turned everything he could into gold, including his beloved roses. Soon after, his attitude abruptly changed when he was unable to eat and drink food or wine, as it was also changed to unappetizing gold. Only after Midas accidentally killed his daughter when he touched her, did he realize the grave tragedy that he had manifested. Franticly, Midas pleaded to Dionysus for him to reverse the wish. Dionysus instructed Midas to bathe in the waters of the Pactolus River, and the wish would be cleansed from his hands. Midas went to the river, and as soon as he touched the water, the river carried away the golden touch. The gold settled in the sands of the Pactolus River and was carried downstream to Lydia, one of the richest kingdoms in the ancient world and the source of the earliest gold currency. In the years after the death of his daughter, Midas’ hatred for wealth and splendor grew and he became a worshiper of Pan, the god of woodlands.
Midas was able to obtain all the gold he could touch and completely fulfilled his one andonly wish. It wasn’t until the heartbreaking loss of his daughter that the great King was enlightened to his own blindness and able to recognize the impact of his reckless and impulsive request. King Midas had acquired access to limitless gold and yet he was empty in his soul, certainly poorer than any common peasant. Midas witnessed the destruction of his daughter and the near destruction of himself, all by his own hands. This lesson is similar for modern day corporate executives in America. The blindfold of greed inhibits one’s foresight, insight and intuition during the rationalization of a decision. They are willing to gamble losing their family members, employees, self-respect and even gambling away their own soul in the voracious pursuit of fleshly wealth.
In another version, Pan challenged Apollo, god of the music, to a test of musical skill. Tmolus, god of the mountain, was the judge of the dispute and ruled that Apollo was the victor. Midas, being a follower of Pan, questioned the ruling and this was a grave offense to Apollo. As punishment for Midas’ lack of musical “taste”, Apollo altered the great King’s ears into those of an ass. Midas was ashamed of his disfigurement; he hid his ears under a large hat with only his barber knowing about the malformation. It was so hard for the barber to keep the secret that he dug a hole, whispered the secret into the hole, and then covered it with earth. Reeds grew from this spot that whispered to passersby, “Midas has donkey ears!” every time the wind blew.
One can view the whispering reeds as a vessel to communicate information; some common knowledge that should be shared throughout the society. The relationship of the reeds and the contents of their whispers can be compared to the media and its role in modern society. There is duality in the messages the media projects and its social responsibility to make certain events and transactions public knowledge. On one hand, the media implies that wealth and success are measured in the amount of tangible wealth one can attain and on the opposing hand; one has to acquire wealth without making the national news and incurring felony indictments. Public opinion of corporate greed has become that of disgust and intolerance, demanding more scrutiny from elected officials. To completely regain accountability and trust, corporate America must begin to understand the story of Midas and the lessons contained are examples of the inherent appetite of greed that lies deep within the human psyche.

With the prevalence of free trade markets and capitalism, the threat of corruption fueled by greed is never going to wane. The lust for worldly riches was recognized by ancient cultures as a destructive force rising from within all humans. Greed ignores all consequence in its quest to consume; yet it is just as common in modern society. Even with many more reeds on the shore whispering darker secrets to the passersby, the blindfold of greed is worn by the most unsuspecting of fools.