Sunday, 10 June 2012 00:00

Ethics, Liars, and Naïveté

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Are there any ethics in business today? Time and again, headlines proclaim where companies and leaders have gone astray. You cannot help but wonder what our fellow humans will do next. Men and women in search of money, power, fame, or all three, decide they are exempt from the rules and social norms the rest of us struggle to follow. It boggles the mind. Unethical, however, is just a waypoint in the spectrum from truth to criminal. Face it, we are all liars. It may be telling our children about Santa Claus, portraying our speed to the policeman, covering up a politician's extramarital affair, or promising fortunes through investments in Ponzi products. Deceit is everywhere.

Lies Are Good

The reality, though, little lies are needlessly damaging. A well stated fact in this blog and my book that I routinely and randomly obfuscate the gender, business domain, and timeframes in case studies and business examples. Is this a lie or does it show integrity? Many have scolded the practice as selfishly protecting me from ridicule, which is ridiculing in and of itself, hence I lose either way. The non-disclosure agreements have long since expired on most of the stories, so I could easily include all the details. I simply feel they are impertinent to the lesson and therefore can be changed with no consequence to the essay's value and no humiliation to the subject. There is little to gain from these trivial details.

Stupidity

All of us have all fallen into the trap of believing a falsehood so completely that we ignorantly espouse its virtues. The ethical tipping point with stupidity is how quickly we listen to contrary data. Will we question our beliefs in search of something closer to the truth? Familiar is the pompous individual who spouts out "facts" based on some set of beliefs that they hold true and who refuse to consider any number of contrary logical arguments. More than once, I have clenched my teeth in a similar situation in order to refrain from blurting out Dan Aykroyd's famous decree on Jane Curtin's ignorance.

The Other Shoe Drops

Help a Needy Non-Profit

The Portland Business Journal is sponsoring a contest called Social Madness. The winner gets to donate $10,000 to their favorite charity. If we win, will choose the Native American Youth Association (NAYA) in Portland to receive the funds. However, we are miles behind and need your help in voting us up the list and keep using the running. Please, go to the Social Madness website and on the Small Business page vote for eCameron and help my Granddaughter.

A few weeks ago, I posed a personal dilemma encountered with a new prospect's employee. The owner was the archetypal progressive and open leader that would make a refreshing client. One of their executives, however, seemed to fabricate a nonexistent conflict. In the spirit of candidness, I had a meeting with the owner to determine what we had done to offend them. That article left the reader with the owner's perplexed query, "Nothing, what makes you think that?"

Many people would halt the investigation and proceed with business, instead, the owner and I decided to hold a meeting with the four people involved—him, the executive, my employee (who was the intermediary of the comment), and myself. We met at an upscale bar and he described the problem factually. The rouge executive said what I most feared, "I never said that, there must be a misunderstanding." The ensuing conversation was riddled with inconsistencies. My only choice was to politely decline to do business with the company. Although the owner was infinitely ethical, he was too naïve, creating intolerable risk. His steadfastness in assuming positive intent translated into lack of judgment. Waiting a number of weeks to see if he would call back, I eventually contacted him to say he should look for another company to do the work. He was notably upset and took the refusal personally. Nothing good ever comes of these situations.

Questioning Ethics

Referring back to the second section of this article—Lies Are Good—I claim that the names, genders, or any other identifying data is irrelevant to the story. Here, however, is the story about dealing with someone's lies (since then many other situations have surfaced) or is it reporting on a condition that others will continue to succumb unless the perpetrator divulge? By obfuscating the person's identity, am I leaving others open to the same fate? Have I wandered down the path from truth to lie so far that concealing the name is morally wrong? Please, give me your input.

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