Business Ethics? Personal Ethics? there a difference?


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Connie Eccles

Hypatia Society

It's amazing the number of people who, in the name of business, will lie, cheat and steal to achieve their goals. What are their goals? ...Money? ...Power? ...Control? Particularly perplexing is the number of these people who wouldn't think to cheat someone in any other relationship. Basically moral people with one big fault -- somehow they've gotten the idea that business is business and personal life is personal life -- period . They don't think business ethics affects one's personal character.

How terribly wrong! cannot separate the two. Business ethics spill over into our personal life and personal values spill over into the lifeblood of our business.

Working for someone who asks you to abandon your values in order to remain in their employ will eventually eat away at you until either your own personal values have become hardened or you must leave your job to bring peace to your soul. Many people who have decided on entrepreneurship did so for that very reason.

Many of us have stories of business owners that have ripped off customers and brag about it as though it were a badge of honor. Refuse to do business with anyone who is unethical. True, you may not know if everyone you have business dealings with is honest but once you discover they are not, take them off your list of business associates.

There are many employers who pay their employees in cash. Sorry, but if you and I pay taxes, so should they. When they do not pay their taxes ours go up. What about the car mechanic who brags about replacing a bad car part with a used part but still charges for a new one? He shouldn't get our business. Others will sell their car as a "great buy" when its really a lemon. Some of the biggest offenders are the "get rich quick schemers" which take advantage of not just the greedy but also the trusting and naive. They should be quickly put out of business, forced to refund all monies and do jail time or years of community service. If the honest, law-abiding people banded together, surely unethical business owners would either have to mend their ways or find new professions.

Values are essential in a healthy society. It is said that "we are only as strong as our weakest link." That statement should create some concern.

Perhaps apathy is the greatest threat to our country. Far too many have adopted the "live and let live"; attitude, interpreting it as "take care of your own and forget everyone else." Considering the past 30 years, our youth have not been given the best examples from the preceding generation ...and today's youth will be tomorrow's leaders.

A community meeting on incorporating values into the school curriculum was held a few years ago. While most of the people felt very comfortable in this proposal, some objected. The objections included: "What happens if a parent is making his money in a dishonest way, we could be opening a virtual can of worms in having the student confront their parent." and "How can we teach values?" "Shouldn't we just let the students develop their own values?"

Well, in answer to those who fear 'that the student may question how daddy makes his money,' it is predictable that at some time in the student's life he/she may take a critical look at the family business. Trust me -- teens go through a period of time when they critically observe the world and the family is no exception. If a person is making a living as a slum lord or paying his employees a minimum wage while he lives in luxury, maybe his ethics should be questioned.

Never neglect to teach good values or endeavor to improve our own because it might cause another discomfort. In fact, while many are uncomfortable teaching values -- they must understand values are already being taught in everyday behaviors. The values taught can be good values or bad values.

If students are allowed to cheat with no consequences then a value is taught -- cheating is no big deal. If children are allowed to ridicule and pick on others (including siblings) while parents, teachers, and leaders turn a 'blind eye' then another value is taught -- there is no protection for the weak and the world is not a safe place. If only the popular are selected at school for extra curricular activities -- then skill and merit are not as important as who your parents know. If adults fail to correct children in their use of foul language then the lesson learned is one of disrespect for self and others. It is amazing how many children from good homes (with high standards and ideals) learn their swearing and foul language on the bus ride to school and at school itself. Teachers and bus drivers, must correct these children. Children need guidelines and structure. When we do not let them know what is inappropriate behavior then confusion and cruelty may result.

Take personal responsibility for what we allow into our own homes. Check those TV programs. But that is not nearly enough, if we want to instigate a change, we must also get involved with good causes in the community. This serves many purposes;

  1. It increases our ability to affect changes in the community;
  2. It helps the community to work more effectively;
  3. It helps our own self-esteem;
  4. It also sets a good example for our children.
  5. It teaches caring and compassion for others.

Business ethics? -- personal ethics? ...there is no difference.

Integrity is not something one turns on or off at will.

These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great challenges are formed. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues.
Abigail Smith Adams