The Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics 2014—sorry for the tardiness— are about 30% of the length of the Worst. Does this mean that the nation and the culture, not to mention the world, are doomed?
Not necessarily. I am well aware that most of the country is ethical, substantially fair and honest, diligent, and embodies ethical values in their every day dealings with you and me, and the world. We primarily hear, and to some extent, take note of, the corrupt, the irresponsible, the manipulative, the untrustworthy and the foolish. The Best Ethics list is smaller in part because only exemplary ethics gets publicity. I also should note that calling attention to unethical conduct and discussing it often does more to advance the mission of Ethics Alarms than confirming that right is right, though I sure wish there was more exemplary ethics to celebrate. Maybe the dearth of award winners here is my fault, and the result of my biases.
Boy, I hope so.
Here are the 2014 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:
Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:
The Ferguson grand jury resisted public and media pressure to deliver a verdict of no indictment against police officer Darren Wilson, upholding the integrity of the justice system despite the injection of emotion, politics and race into a tragic incident where none of these belonged. Though the available evidence could never have supported a guilty verdict, it would have been easy and popular for the grand jury to make Wilson stand trial anyway, just as George Zimmerman did. Their reward has been to be attacked as fools and racists, but they did the right thing, when the wrong thing must have seemed very attractive.
Outstanding Ethical Leadership
The New York Yankees. (Bear with me now.) The Yankees are the most famous team in professional sports in the biggest sports market in the world. They make money without even trying. Yet when the team had a bad year and missed the play-offs in 2013, it committed nearly a billion dollars to re-building the team, a move that only makes sense in the quest to win games, not to maximize profit. Thus they prominently chose loyalty, mission and sportsmanship over greed. (The Yankees still missed the play-offs in 2014, too.) Then all year long the team placed a spotlight on Derek Jeter, their retiring hero, whose career and character single-handedly refutes the cynicism of sports critics fed up with the lack of character displayed by the Armstrongs, the Rices, the ARods, the Belichicks, the Winstons, the Paternos, and so many, many others. Finally, when two New York City police officers were assassinated after Al Sharpton, and the “Hands Up!” protestors, with the city’s own mayor’s support, had vilified the profession as violent, racist and untrustworthy, who will pay for the fallen officers’ children to go to college? The New York Yankees’ Silver Shield Foundation. Add charity, compassion, civic duty and gratitude to the list of ethics values the New Your baseball club modeled for us. I know it seems odd and even trivial to follow up last year’s winner in this category—the Pope— with a sports franchise, but to paraphrase Babe Ruth’s famous rejoinder when the Yankees balked at his salary demands in 1930, saying he wanted to be paid more than then-President Herbert Hoover (“I had a better year that Hoover!”), the Yankees has a better year than the Pope.
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros secondbaseman and American League batting champ….the right way. He began the final day of the 2014 season hitting .340, three points ahead of the Tigers’ Victor Martinez. If Altuve didn’t play in Houston’s meaningless last game, Martinez would have to go 3-for-3 to pass him, giving the DH a narrow .3407 average compared with Altuve’s .3399. By playing, Altuve risked lowering his average, providing Martinez with a better chance of winning the batting championship. Many players in the past have sat out their final game or games to “back in” to the prize, rather than give the fans a chance to watch a head to head battle injecting some much-needed drama into the expiring season. Altuve, however, gave Martinez his shot. He played the whole game, had two hits in his four at-bats, and won the American League batting title on the field, not on the bench, as Martinez went hitless. The conduct, simple as it was, embodied fairness, integrity, courage, respect for an opponent, and most of all, respect for the game.
The Level #1 apology, according to the Ethics Alarms Apology scale, issued by Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco.The school had cruelly and needless embarrassed graduating senior Jessica Urbina (above), rejecting her inclusion in the yearbook because she chose to be photographed in a tuxedo rather than a dress, as the school’s dress code, which had not been previously made clear, demanded. I wrote…
“The rule is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong. The best way to change a rule that is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong is to break it, and see if those in charge have the sense and compassion to do the right thing. The administrators of Sacred Heart Cathedral High School flunked. I doubt that Jessica was even trying to provoke a confrontation: like any normal student, she wanted her image in the most important piece of memorabilia of her high school years to accurately portray her as she was, not as some alien ideal dictated by the Catholic Church. There was nothing to be achieved by banning the photo.”
The school reversed itself with grace and compassion. The apology is long, but a more humble or complete one would be unachievable. It achieved an ethical end to an ugly episode. You can read it here. Runner up: Writer Henry Rollins‘ lovely and wrenching apology for his initial reaction to Robin Williams’ suicide.
Hero of the Year
Michael DeBeyer. De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and is worth an estimated $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save the life of Brittany Mathis, 19. Brittany works for De Beyer at his Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, and learned, in December 2013, that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor. She couldn’t afford the operation to find out whether the tumor was benign or malignant, and didn’t have health insurance. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help,” Michael told local reporters.
That’s what makes ethics heroes; really, really loud ethics alarms, combined with courage and caring.
Parent of the Year
NBA Star Kevin Durant’s Mom.
Most Ethical Celebrity
Matthew McConaughey. In a field notably sparse on exemplary ethics by celebrities, the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Actor stands out for a speech that was inspirational, thoughtful, and rife with ethics wisdom. It is worth recalling. Here it is:
Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the Academy for this—all 6,000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable in my opinion. I didn’t see a false note anywhere. I want to thank Jean-Marc Vallée, our director. Want to thank Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, who I worked with daily.
There’s a few things, about three things to my account that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase. Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you.”
To my family, that who and what I look forward to. To my father who, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear. And he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you, Dad, you taught me what it means to be a man. To my mother who’s here tonight, who taught me and my two older brothers… demanded that we respect ourselves. And what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others. Thank you for that, Mama. To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you give me every day I go out the door is unparalleled. You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you.
And to my hero. That’s who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.
So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, “Amen.” To that I say, “Alright, alright, alright.” To that I say “just keep living.” Thank you.
Most Principled Politician
The late Thomas Menino, Boston’s beloved Democratic mayor for two decades (the longest in tenure in the city’s history), who retired last January and died of cancer nine months later. Somehow I missed giving him the ethics send-off he deserved. Amazingly, he was the first Italian-American mayor in Boston’s history: the job has always been won by the city’s Irish machine. While mayors around the nation were embroiled in scandals and embarrassments, Menino undeniably improved the city, led it admirably in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and left office with the admiration of conservatives as well as liberals despite being an aggressive agent of progressive policies. His passion caused him to make some ethical missteps, such as joining other liberal mayors in telling Chick-Fil-A that it “wasn’t welcome” in Boston because of its owner’s anti-gay marriage sentiments. He joined Michael Bloomberg in creating Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and must share responsibility for some of the dubious tactics and misrepresentations of that organization. He also had a scandal or two involving political favors, but in 20 years, by my count, he had fewer than most Boston mayors had every year. In 2012, polls found that he had an approval rating over 80%, and left his position more popular than he entered it. Boston is liberal, but it isn’t that liberal.
Most Ethical Company
Don’t ever let me do that again.
I just reviewed over a hundred posts about businesses and corporations from last year, and not one of them celebrated ethical conduct. The closest was, believe it or not, the Washington Redskins, for having the guts, orneriness and principles to stand against the forces of censorship and political correctness to refuse to change the name of their team and organization. It has been targeted as a symbolic scalp that race-baiters, grievance-hucksters and progressive bullies are determined to have hanging from their belts; the opponents of the team have recruited the U.S. government, and the pressure is tremendous. It would be so easy to change the name now, when support for the perpetually rotten team is at low ebb in Washington, D.C., but the principle is worth the battle. However, my gag reflex will not allow me to give this award to an NFL team, since by definition it must be engaged in so much else that is wrong.
So for a second straight year I’m going to send you to Ethisphere’s list of the most ethical companies in the world. Their criteria isn’t mine, but there’s got to be a genuinely ethical company of two on there somewhere. Let me know if you find it. Continue reading