A colleague and I were reminiscing about the good old days — when a handshake (at least before COVID 19) meant something and a person’s word was their bond. If people said they were going to do something, you knew they could be depended upon for getting it done. If you lent them money, you knew they would repay it. If you gave an employee petty cash to manage, you could trust that they spent on items that were justified in the best interests of the business.
Although that’s probably still true for the majority of people, most of us have discovered that in the world there are enough cons, fraudsters and individuals practicing unethically, that we have become more cautious and less trusting. Everyday in the news we hear of people who have broken a bond of trust.
In financial services, infamous advisers like Earl Jones and Bernie Madoff have taken their clients’ money and without any qualms or adhering to their professional code of ethics, have stolen entire retirement funds from trusting clients, even their own families. Unethical politicians have abused their power and the trust given to them by their constituents; telling bald-faced lies, taking kickbacks, giving untendered contracts to friends and financial supporters, and using expense accounts as their personal piggybanks. Hypocritical religious leaders and sports coaches are caught abusing children. A surprisingly high percentage of students blatantly cheat on exams and misrepresent their resumes. What’s the world coming to?
We face ethical decisions on a daily basis. Do we pad our expense account? Do we return the money when a clerk gives us too much change or undercharges us for an item? Do we call in sick when we don’t feel like going to work? These are relatively minor offences and the “situationally ethical” individual will argue that no one is getting hurt. But that’s not true. In addition to hurting your employer or the retail company, you are hurting yourself. You are chipping away at your own integrity, and YOU know what you did.
Then, knowing yourself to be untrustworthy, you are less likely to trust others. And not trusting others makes it more difficult for others to trust you. It’s a vicious cycle.
The study of ethics is very complex, rarely black and white. There are many gray areas. But for our purposes, I’d suggest that acting with integrity, abiding by a code of ethics that you have deliberately chosen because it helps to define the difference between right and wrong, will benefit you and those around you. It makes you more believable, more trustworthy, more respected, and more credible. More likely to be successful.
Most people prefer to do business with and work with individuals they like, respect and trust.