Tag Archives: ethics training

From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

mao

I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Professions, The Internet

Why Is This News?

To again quote a wise baby: "This is my shocked face..."

To again quote a cynical baby: “This is my shocked face…”

From McClatchey:

No record that Clinton, aides took required ethics training 

“There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton or her top aides completed ethics training when they started at the State Department as required by federal law. State Department records show only three of nine top Clinton aides took the mandated training for new employees. Records also suggest that none of seven top aides required to take subsequent annual training completed it.”

I’m sorry: I actually laughed out loud when I read this. STOP THE PRESSES! Actually, the news would be if Hillary attended any ethics training.

Anywhere.

Ever.

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire

Good News On Business Ethics? Maybe: The Ethics Research Center’s 2014 National Business Ethics Survey

ERC surveyThe Ethics Resource Center, a distinguished Washington, D.C. based ethics research and consulting firm, performs a survey of business employees every two years to measure trends in workplace ethics. It’s 2013 survey and report was released last week, and appears to bear good tidings. Workplace misconduct is on the decline, the data says.  41 percent of employees observed misconduct in 2013, way down from 55 percent in 2007. Moreover, ERC’s “National Business Ethics Survey,” which polled 6,400 U.S. employees, found that only 9 percent of employees polled felt pressure to compromise their standards in 2013, down from 13 percent in the previous survey in 2011.

ERC Chairman Michael G. Oxley  (of Sarbanes-Oxley fame) said in a release,“The results of the survey are encouraging and show that companies are doing a better job of holding workers accountable, imposing discipline for misconduct, and letting it be known publicly that bad behavior will be punished.”

Among the survey’s intriguing findings:

  • “Over the last two years, observed misconduct fell in every one of the 26 specific categories we asked about in both NBES 2011 and NBES 2013.
  • “Pressure to compromise standards, often a leading indicator of future misconduct, also was down – falling from 13 percent in 2011 to nine percent in the latest survey.”

Less encouraging are these: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society, Workplace

Unethical Ethics: How Business and Government Encourage Unethical Thinking In Their Ethics Training

Show us the way, O Wise and Ethical One!

Jack Abramoff, the corrupt lobbyist turned federal prisoner, then author and now ethics expert, will be giving a lecture on government and personal ethics at The University of Texas at Austin’s business school on May 2. This is not as unusual as it seems. My biggest competitors are felons and disbarred lawyers—they literally step right out of professional disgrace, and sometimes jail, into the lecture circuit. They are draws, and in a field like ethics, which is often prescribed as substitute for barbiturates, this is irresistible to professional development programmers and conference organizers. It also attracts the participants that most need real ethics training, but who seek what these fake ethics presenter usually have to offer:  real life-based advice on what you can’t get away with. This lesson has about as much to do with ethics as it does with Parcheesi, but unfortunately, that’s what is generally regarded as practical ethics.

Characters like Abramoff don’t have ethics alarms; they have survival alarms.  Business schools, politicians and the media still believe that aiming reforms at those alarms, in the form of tougher rules and enforcement, will make business and government more ethical. Think about it: the cultures will still be unethical; the people in them will be just as unethical, but because proven scofflaws and ethics corrupters like  Jack Abramoff will explain where they went wrong, all these people with dead ethics alarms, further deadened by absorbing  the wisdom of the most corrupt of a corrupt breed, will stop behaving unethically.

Good plan. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Education, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society, Workplace

Here’s An Idea: How About Making Teachers Actually Read Their Code of Ethics?

Read the Code, Miss Umbridge!

I don’t believe that the outrageous stories I read almost every day about incompetent, abusive, irresponsible teachers necessarily prove that there is a higher percentage of teachers who got their credentials straight from Hell today than in past generations, though I strongly suspect that is the case. In the days before the internet, horror stories stayed local, and seldom even made the paper. Thus we didn’t hear about the kind of student-terrorizing episodes that have turned up over the last few days, such as….

…..The fourth grade teacher whose brilliant idea to explain the Civil War was to have a slave auction in class, with the white students bidding on the non-white students.

…..The kindergarten teacher who reportedly told students to encircle a classmate, call him a pig and make pig noises because the boy was “messy.” Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Professions, Workplace

Unethical Quote of the Week: Wrongly Imprisoned Victim John Thompson

“I don’t think training would have had anything to do with nothing really, to be honest with you, because you could have trained them and they would still do it. You need to punish them for doing it, then they won’t do it.”

John Thompson, who was wrongly and illegally convicted of murder in Louisiana and spent 14 years on death row because prosecutors withheld exculpatory blood evidence from his lawyers and his trial. His civil suit against the prosecutor’s office, run by Harry Connick, Sr. (yes, the singer’s father) for millions in punitive damages, on the theory that the prosecutors who framed him were inadequately trained, was overturned last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This statement apparently was made by Thompson last October, when the Supreme Court took the case, and I missed it. It surfaced again this morning in a Washington Post editorial calling for harsher punishment for prosecutors who violate the rights of accused suspects and send innocent people to prison or execution. The Post has never been more right, and the $14 million originally awarded to Thompson by an appalled jury for his ordeal is still inadequate compensation for the 18 years he spent behind bars because of a prosecutor’s dishonesty.

But the theory used to get Thompson his money—that the tragedy would have been prevented if Connick’s office hadn’t been negligent in training its lawyers in prosecutorial ethics—was a sham, and deserved to be rejected by the Court, no matter how much Thompson deserved the money, or indeed, ten time the money. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Quotes, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, U.S. Society

A Shocking Farewell Confession From “The Ethicist”

In Randy Cohen’s farewell column for “The Ethicist” today—he was sacked by the new editor of The New York Times despite providing an entertaining, well-written and provocative column for many years— he makes a statement that I find shocking, and one that challenges the core assumption of this blog and indeed my occupation.

Writing the column has not made me even slightly more virtuous. And I didn’t have to be: it was in my contract. O.K., it wasn’t. But it should have been. I wasn’t hired to personify virtue, to be a role model for the kids, but to write about virtue in a way readers might find engaging. Consider sports writers: not 2 in 20 can hit the curveball, and why should they? They’re meant to report on athletes, not be athletes. And that’s the self-serving rationalization I’d have clung to had the cops hauled me off in handcuffs.
What spending my workday thinking about ethics did do was make me acutely conscious of my own transgressions, of the times I fell short. It is deeply demoralizing.

Amazing. Randy, we hardly knew ye, and we sure didn’t understand ye, either. How can someone possibly spend one’s working day “thinking about ethics” and not become more virtuous in his daily conduct? Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Journalism & Media, Professions, Religion and Philosophy, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society