In a cover feature story for Entertainment Weekly, Neil Patrick Harris (or whoever ghost-wrote for him) lays out his Hollywood Survival Guide. Secret of Hollywood Survival #6 for the star of “How I Met Your Mother” and ubiquitous awards show host is “Don’t Be A Douche”:
“Hollywood affords many opportunities to be a douche of epic proportions,” writes the grown-up “Doogie Howser,” “Avoid the temptation.” He continues:
“Being a pleasant person has got to count for something….Actors sometimes take themselves far too seriously and put themselves on a different level [from the crew.] But everyone’s working really hard and should be afforded the same level of respect.”
For that, Neil gets an Ethics Alarms salute. Unfortunately, he scars his achievement by going on to explain how the make-up people, the film editor and the transportation department can really nail you if you don’t treat them well.
Given the breezy tone of the article, Harris was probably joking, but the joke reinforces the misconception many people have about ethics, which is that ethical conduct is a quid pro quo. It’s not. The Golden Rule isn’t “Do nicely unto others do they won’t screw you over,” and someone’s less than nice behavior toward you doesn’t justify your being a douche to him. One isn’t respectful to the waiter because he’s liable to spit in your soup if you’re not, but because it’s the right way to treat other human beings.
Neil Patrick Harris certainly seems like a decent guy, and he probably is. I just wish, in the pursuit of a pretty stale joke about how the make-up people will get even by making you look like a troll, he hadn’t reinforced one of the most persistent of unethical rationalizations.