Better to Lose a Job Than Your Honor 732.3

The story unfolding in England about reporters at Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid hacking into voicemails is disturbing. It appears that the practice was extensive and had been going on for a long time.

For the offending reporters and editors, it was just business. Private information is a valuable commodity, and every day more is needed. That’s a lot of pressure, the kind of pressure that breeds a “whatever it takes” attitude unencumbered by ethical niceties.

We’ve seen it before — business executives manipulating reports and teachers falsifying test results to meet their goals. In all these cases, employees who violate basic norms of decency as well as the law say they had no choice. The possibility of losing their jobs was all the justification they needed.

Our instincts to “look out for number one” are natural and powerful, but integrity and honor stand no chance if we accept the idea that fear of losing a job or other forms of self-interest are moral “get out of jail free” cards.

Beware of the false necessity trap, the belief that anything necessary for our survival or well-being is justified. First, we often call things necessary when they are simply desirable. As Nietzsche said, “Necessity is not a fact, it’s an interpretation.” Second, personal necessity doesn’t trump ethics.

In fact, even from the perspective of long-term self-interest, it’s much better to resist than to surrender to pressure.

Losing your job isn’t nearly as costly as losing your honor. That’s why people of character do the right thing even when it costs more than they want to pay.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 17

  1. While the above story is truly heartwrenching, the person in question should have quietly begun looking for another job when he saw that his best efforts at changing illegal practices were not working. He doesn’t have a responsibility to fix the world at the expense of his family and livelihood. But he does have a responsibility to disconnect from immoral practices. The way he chose to do it — in our “real” world — wasn’t the wisest way. It is up to us to find a way to ensure that ethical responsibilities are met in all directions.

  2. Mr. Josephson,
    I’d like to hear your opinion on the comment posted by Colby on July 20, 2011, in regards to commentary 732.3 “Better to Lose a Job Than Your Honor.”
    Thank you,
    Janet

  3. Colby,
    In this decadent era, if your best friend had wealth, today he’d be called, “a hero” Since he is mired in poverty he may earn a title of, “a bum” Yes this is a cruel world.
    The correct path to follow is to do what is right! You friend is hero
    Thank you for putting your thoughts in writing.

  4. So, just to continue, I was then eventually laid off in reference to my complaint do to reorganization. However, I was not going to be bullied, harassed or spoken to as if I was a child and being yelled at everyday. You do not treat people disrespectfully daily. I moved on and changed careers, but didn’t bring about legal action.for the fear of being “black balled”. I should have done just that because I couldn’t find work in my industry anayway. But I kept my honor and my integrity which is something no matter how difficult it may be, is something you must keep in order to live true to yourself , family and my GOD.

  5. I have refused to do something that I thought was unethical; luckily, I was not fired, but had I been life would have gone on. I think one must stand for one’s beliefs and we have an obligation to teach our children right from wrong and to stand up for what they believe is right. I can proudly say my son (who went to a very competitive high school) would rather have a zero on a homework assignment than cheat off of another student’s work. It may have cost him his GPA, but he knew his grades were what he earned. He was still accepted at every university he applied to.

  6. Colby,
    Whatever happened to “Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Love and Absolute Unselfishness”
    I noticed that you upheld the Love and Unselfishness by preactising it, and I commend you for standing by your friend.
    I would like to quote this:
    Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.

  7. I will tell you that once, as a teacher, I was “asked” to change a grade to allow a couple of football players the right to play. These gentlemen didn’t do the work in the class and failed because of it. They had every opportunity as the other people in the class who had done the work and gotten the grades needed. I was told that such an adverse grade would adversely effect their potential careers. I stuck to my guns and didn’t change the grade. They went to my superiors all the way to the school board. I told them that I would not change the grade and that they could if they wanted to, but I would quit on the spot if they did. They changed the grade and I quit on the spot. It was a matter of right and wrong. I might have been wrong for not bending this one time, but if you bend once, the next time it is easier and the next time is easier still until you no longer can stand up straight. I lost my job, but I maintained my character and that was more important.

  8. Saving my honor is precisely why I retired from IRS in 2000. (I had planned to stay for some time more.) Management wanted to put me in charge of part of the reorganization of the Laguna Niguel District based on requirements of congresses 1998 reform act for tax matters. I knew the act would seriously harm the ability of the Service to effectively and professionally collect tax revenues and I could not bring myself to be a part of it.
    As I had surmises, the act has set tax collection back many years.

  9. “… people of character do the right thing even when it costs more than they want to pay.”
    I’m reminded of your stance on building the Islam center by the WTC.

  10. I not sure I agree that Chuck Rosen quitting his job was the “right thing” to do. The tax reform act wasn’t unethical or immoral, apparently it was just a poor change to collecting taxes. In my view, it was more a show of poor character to not stay and use his experience to help the organization overcome the pitfalls of the new policies. But I’m sure that Chuck honestly believes his stance to be valid. Maybe that’s why ethical dilemmas like Colby’s friend are so difficult to agree on. Doing the right thing is not always the hard part; sometimes it’s harder to define exactly what that “right thing” is.

  11. I have perhaps a unique vantage point on the IRS’s collection of unpaid taxes in 1998 (then estimated at 50 billion dollars) that prompted Mr. Rosen to quit. Congress attempted to effect collections through a proven device: Collection attorneys — who are known to recover 90% or more of otherwise “uncollectible” tax accounts. The highest level IRS collection employees, whose prior performance would be called into question if the new program were overly successful, simply sabotaged the program by creating unneeded administrative labyrinths. Nationwide, and without exception, experienced private collection attorneys, all of whom had with proven track records for similar work with state and local governments and other federal agencies, simply refused to submit bid proposals. Contracts were eventually awarded to a few non-lawyer collection agencies that did nothing other than send letters and make telephone calls. To no one’s surprise, they performed poorly. And the program was then deemed to be a failure.
    Mr. Rosen who saw the obvious from the outset was understandably vexed.
    If someone has abilities with a desire to effectively “serve,” that person does not want to waste them on a pointless job doing nothing more than taking salary at the public’s expense. This is not a difficult ethical decision.

  12. I have to disagree with both Chuck Rosen and Richard Golden. Is quitting really the solution to this ethical problem? As a manager shouldn’t he have actually done his job and get the agents to do their job? Discipline or terminate any agents sabotaging the program? Maybe make the situation public so that taxpayers would see the waste? From Richard’s description it seems that the plan was good, just the personnel were lacking in ethics. Simply quitting seems to be washing one’s hands of a bad situation but not really doing anything to correct it. It seems akin to walking away from a mugging and patting oneself on the back for not taking part in it.

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