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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive
June 21, 2006
Ethics: Silicone Honesty Implants

I like to hire people who are smart. People who are hard-working. People who are happy to do all of their job and half of mine – and give me credit for all of it. Those are my kinds of people.


What I do not want is people who are “ethical.” I have nothing against honesty, fair play and all the rest. It’s just that these principles have nothing to do with ethics.


I have many interesting theories. No one who has to tell you he’s smart really is. The more people talk about how much they care about the plight of the poor, the less they probably do. And people who are honest don’t talk about “ethics,” nor is it possible to teach them “ethics.”


About four years ago, I was interviewing a job candidate, and I asked said candidate what she would do if a client asked her to lie.


The candidate folded her hands and got a confident if rather dispassionate (dare I say smug?) look on her face. Then she began her answer: “Ethics. I see.” She then recited, to the letter, the relevant passage from the applicable trade association’s code of ethics pertaining to the situation referenced.


She didn’t get the job.


I wasn’t looking for someone who had memorized the rules. I know the rules. I was looking for a from-the-heart answer that would have sounded more like, “I don’t lie. That’s not who I am. I’ll do my best for you and for this company’s clients, but not only is lying stupid and counterproductive, it’s just wrong, and as soon as I start doing what I know is wrong – for any reason – I’ve lost who I am. I won’t let anyone make me do that.”


Now that answer will get you the job! But you’re not going to give that answer if you’re not feeling it deep down in your soul, and that is the difference between honesty and “ethics.”


Ask an ethics professor, specifically Professor Tony Buono of Bentley College in Boulder, Colorado. He recruited colleagues from the departments of finance, accounting and philosophy to teach a course about corporate ethics to a group of students, using a smattering of high-profile corporate scandals as examples of what not to do.


Small problem, though. In two controlled exercises – one when the course began and one when it was ending – the students proved more likely to violate ethics rules after taking the course. When Buono called them on it, they blamed him, saying he gave them the ideas.


Now colleges are trying to change their approach – some by eschewing actual ethics courses and incorporating ethics discussions into other business classes. Other are trying to “inspire” students to do good by having them build Habitat for Humanity houses.


Will that inspire a fundamentally dishonest person to change his or her stripes? Ask Mrs. Krause, whose comment about this was, “That sounds like a class Bill Clinton should teach.”


How so?


“Hey! Mr. Junior Business Executive! You double-billed the client and raided the pension fund!”


“Ah know! When Ah was workin’ at the soup kitchen, feedin’ Chunky Vegt’ible Beef to them less fortunate people, Ah was really torn up about that! Ah wanna use mah ill-gotten gains to help those who aren’t the winners of life’s lottery!”


Mr. Junior Executive aced the ethics course! But ethics are silicone honesty. They look really good, and they’re designed to be noticed. But you can tell they’re not real. A person of true character will never need to look at a code of ethics. A person who lacks true character can never learn enough from one. But you can always try!


See my honesty implants?


Yep. Ethics. I see.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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