Category Archives: Workplace

Ethics Alarms Mail Bag: The Cologne Allergy

Perfume allergyEvery now and then readers think I’m Ann Landers. Today I got a “Dear Ethics Alarms: What’s right?” e-mail from a friend, and I thought I’d answer it on the blog because it raises a classic ethics conundrum.

The inquirer belongs to a social group that meets weekly. It is a weekly joy, I am told; the writer has been attending for years. Everyone convenes, on the given day, right after work. Attendance varies, and membership is informal, though individuals have been told, on rare occasions, to come no more.

Of late an infrequent attendee, but a member of long standing, has begun to attend meetings with some regularity. My friend says this is not the happiest of developments, because the two do not get along. It is a breach of long-standing, I am told and is not going to be healed. “She is an asshole,” is how the letter delicately puts it.

Last week, shortly before the end of the 90 minute gathering, the recent interloper stood up and declared that she had developed a serious allergy to colognes, perfumes, aftershave, and all chemical scents. Looking right at my friend, she declared that this allergy made exposure to any sort of commercial scent unbearable, and she asked that in the future no members should wear perfume of any kind.

“I have worn a favorite brand of cologne every day for over thirty years,” the from my acquaintance letter says. “I always get complimented on it; the scent is subtle and nobody would notice it unless they were right next to me. The asshole and I have been separated by the length of the room since she started coming. Personally, I think she made the demand just to make me miserable. She knows, from our previous relationship [NOTE: I think it was more than just a friendship], that I wear the cologne.”

The question: Is she ethically obligated to stop wearing cologne on the day of the meeting (she goes right from work) to accommodate this member’s special problem?

Add to this the broader ethics question that comes up often: Does a group member with special sensitivity have the ethical upper hand allowing such a member to demand that all other members avoid conduct that only bothers that member? Continue reading

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“Beverly Johnson And The Bill Cosby Scandal”: NPR’S “On Point” With Michel Martin, and Me, Among Others

old-microphone

//embed.wbur.org/player/onpoint/2014/12/16/bill-cosby-beverly-johnson-assault

The panel segment starts after the interview with Johnson, about halfway in. You can also listen on the WBUR website, here.

My comments regarding the discussion are here.

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The Michel Martin Question I Didn’t Answer This Morning, and More On The Bill Cosby Scandal

On pointIn the segment on “Beverly Johnson And The Bill Cosby Scandal” I just completed for NPR’s “On Point” program, out of Boston with the magnificent Michel Martin hosting, I emulated the Sunday morning talk show guests I so revile for answering questions by making their own points that have little or no relevance to what was asked. Michel asked me, as the time left in the hour-long program was ticking down, what ethical obligations consumers—that is, the audience for his concerts, TV shows and albums—have regarding Cosby, in light of the rape allegations against him.

I was still stunned by the comments made by three callers, encompassing several ethically confused assertions that you know I would find annoying:

  • That the victims should not be coming forward so late;
  • That Cosby is “innocent until proven guilty” (GRRRRR…);
  • That it’s “easy” for women to make unsubstantiated allegations against celebrities, and
  • That there is a parallel between the allegations against Cosby and the Rolling Stone campus rape story.

That last one especially had my head threatening to explode, which would not be good for my relationship with NPR, so I think I can be forgiven for missing Michel’s query. Yes, the UVA rape allegation is exactly like the Cosby scandal, other than the fact that the accusers in Cosby’s case have come forward publicly while “Jackie” has not; that its two dozen (so far) alleged victims for Cosby and one in the UVA case; that one situation is a classic example of abuse of power, wealth and influence and the other is not; that Cosby settled one claim rather than air the allegations in a court of law; and that virtually every part of “Jackie” claim has failed to hold  up under scrutiny and investigation, whereas Cosby, the one individual who could offer evidence to counter the allegations against him, has done nothing but have spokesmen and lawyers issue blanket protests and denials.

Yup. Identical.

My answer to Michel should have been this:

“It’s up to Cosby fans, If they still can still laugh and cheer at Cosby’s nice guy schtick and “America’s Dad” persona knowing that he’s a serial rapist, fine: laughter is good, get it where you can. Personally, I can’t laugh at someone whom I know has engaged in horrific acts, hurt women who admired and trusted them, and by his own conduct left another cultural hero lying face-down in the mud. I can’t forgive it, I can’t get past it, and I’m certainly not going to keep laughing. this is no different from the NFL fans who keep wearing Ray Rice jerseys, or for that matter, Democratic women who continue to swoon over Bill Clinton. If they do, they either:

  • Can’t get over their cognitive dissonance, and at some level refuse to believe what cannot be rationally denied, or…
  • Don’t think the conduct involved—punching women, exploiting women, raping women—is worth getting upset about, or…
  • Buy the absurd personal/public dichotomy, and can still cheer wife-beatering athletes, star-struck intern-exploiting leaders, and raping comedians.

All of these are sad and impossible to justify, but they are common. Does the continued support of a Cosby ratify his conduct? Not in the eyes of his undeterred fans, but in the culture? Of course it does. If Bill Cosby’s career escapes relatively unscathed by this, and he is not held accountable by society, the verdict of the culture will be a particularly extreme version of The King’s Pass: if you are rich enough, powerful enough and seen as contributing enough to society, then you will be held to a lower standard, and can get away with, if not murder, serial rape.”

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Reminder: It’s A Wonderful Ethics Movie!

It's_a_Wonderful_Life

I’m watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra’s ultimate ethics movie. Don’t forget to review its ethics dilemmas, conflicts and conundrums with the handy

Ethics Alarms Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide.

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Ethics Quiz: The Harvard Prof and The Erroneous Chinese Restaurant Menu

Perfect! Just what you need to handle that pesky flea, Professor!

Perfect! Just what you need to handle that pesky flea, Professor!

Ben Edelman, a rather well-noted Harvard Business School professor, had this fascinating exchange with a local Szechuan restaurant:

Edelman 1Edelman 2Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

“Is Prof. Edelman’s conduct ethical?”

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Ethics Dunce: George Stevens, Jr.

Abuse of power, abuse of position, disrespect, unfairness and old-fashioned pettiness—these are just some of the ethics fouls the Kennedy Center’s George Stevens, Jr. committed during the 37th Kennedy Center Honors program last night in Washington, D.C.

“Take this job and shove it” is a pleasing anthem of the abused and disaffected in the workforce, but acting on the sentiment is usually a bad idea, and in some cases, like this one, a terrible idea. The Kennedy Center Honors program was Stevens’ baby from its inception nearly two decades ago, a gala honoring the greats of American culture with a star-studded stage show attended by the glitterati of Washington and Hollywood. Through his skill and showmanship—it runs in his family: he is the son of the great Hollywood director George Stevens, who directed “Shane,” among other classics–he had made the annual event an institution. The awards were considered the official confirmation of icon status, and the program was one of the few culture-related presentations remaining that was deemed worthy of a yearly network telecast. Apparently, Stevens felt that he made the Honors what they were, so he had the right to warp it to his own selfish ends.

Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein thanked the audience for its support, and then, in a gesture unchanged from past years, thanked producers George Stevens Jr. This time, however, instead of waving from the audience as in past years, Stevens came on stage and announced that Rubenstein was forcing him out as producer after 37 years. “We accept that this will be our last Honors,” Stevens said. “This is our good night.” It was hardly a spontaneous show of pique, for he had programmed his comments into the teleprompter.

The sour note interrupted the flow of the evening, and cast a pall over the tributes to honorees Lily Tomlin and Sting, which had not yet begun. (The celebrations of the careers of Tom Hanks, ballerina Patricia McBride and soul singer Al Green had been completed.)

Stevens had been engaged in contentious talks with Kennedy Center management, which wanted to move the Honors show in a new direction and sought a fresh creative vision. In a messy split redolent of Jerry Lewis’s divorce from the Annual MS Labor Day Telethon, an aging creator of a cherished tradition was being retired against his will, and felt betrayed.

Jerry Lewis, however, did not crash the telethon to announce his departure.

This kind of petulant and vindictive exit may feel good in the doing, but is always destructive. The victims included the honorees, the audience, and Steven’s own good will and reputation, as well the event itself.  Can this be justified by the momentary satisfaction of telling his foes at the Kennedy Center off, and holding them up for brief, unwanted criticism? Of course not. All this act accomplishes is to make it clear why the leadership of the Kennedy Center concluded that it was time for Stevens to go. This was not the act of a professional nor the act of a gentlemen. It is the act of an egotist, or perhaps that of someone who has stayed too long and through age or complacency forgotten that maxim of both the theater and life, that you always want to leave your audience wanting more.

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The Wall Street Journal’s Uncultured Culture Critic

Joanne Kaufman was here...

Joanne Kaufman was here…

In a jaw-dropping essay for her employer, The Wall Street Journal, alleged culture critic Joanne Kaufman proudly and candidly disabuses readers of any misconceptions they might have had regarding her qualifications for her job. She is not merely unqualified, but willfully, shamelessly, spectacularly unqualified. In a smug screed in which she admits to habitually walking out on Broadway shows at intermission, Kaufman reveals herself as lazy, arrogant, disrespectful of artists, and most crippling of all, to be afflicted by the attention span of the average Twitter addict.

“Don’t ask me what happened during the second acts of “Matilda,” “Kinky Boots,” “Pippin” and, reaching back a few seasons, “Boeing-Boeing” and “Billy Elliott, ”  Kaufman boasts.  “Really, I have no idea. But I am nothing if not cosmopolitan in my tastes, or distastes—French farces, English musicals set in gritty industrial cities, and American entertainments involving Charlemagne ’s Frankish kin.”

You can read her entire piece here; if the Journal doesn’t fire her, it is run by fools. “I’m of the “brevity is the soul of wit” school and of the belief that only a few bites are required to determine that you just don’t like a particular dish,” she happily admits. “My ideal night in the theater runs 90 minutes without an intermission (it is best not to put temptation in my path), which means that Shakespeare and I don’t tend to see a lot of each other.” This is the culture writer, remember. Yet she is admitting to membership in the lazy, sound-bite, bumper-sticker, multi-processing, distracted, ADD-addled public that has caused writers, playwrights, producers, book publishers, film-makers and song-writers to dumb down, redact, trivialize and simplify entertainment in an accelerating death cycle: plots don’t make sense, explosions start early, subtlety is forbidden, and no issue, thought or topic that can’t be fully explored in the time it takes to do a load of laundry is going can find its way on stage or screen. The Journal’s culture writer doesn’t have the time or interest to sit through King Lear, Hamlet, The Ice Man Cometh, or Death of a Salesman,  or to view all of “Seven Samurai,” “A Man for All Seasons” or “Gettysburg”—hey, a movie about one of those short Civil War battles for Joanne, please: she’s got a 15 minute segment of “Robot Chicken” to catch. Continue reading

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