June 21, 2006
Ethics: Silicone Honesty
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
didn’t get the job.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Mr. Junior Business Executive! You double-billed the client and raided
the pension fund!”
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
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!
Ethics. I see.
© 2006 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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