The grandfather stands at the counter with a young child. She appears to be about four years of age. He purchases burgers and fries. The man requests a water cup, pays for the purchase and then walks over to the soda machine. He proceeds to fill the cup with Cola.
The young girl watched him. At his eye level there is a sign that said the courtesy cup is only for water.
This is an ethics lesson. He failed.
So does the mom in the supermarket who gives her child a banana to munch on as she fills her shopping basket. The woman does not place the banana skin on the counter with her other purchases for check out.
Not ethics you say? These are only examples of stealing, not an ethical lapse in judgment?
Not so fast. Ethical behavior is an internal compass that a person uses to determine right from wrong. Ethics are dependent on environment, situation and belief systems. If one person or company has problems calibrating what is the right thing to do in a situation, does that affect the rest of us?
I think it does.
Certainly the prior examples have a direct effect on prices for restaurant and food vendors. Store owners can either directly stop customers from stealing product, or they can factor the cost so that everyone pays for the consumption of unpaid goods.
We all pay it one way or another. There are times when the dollar cost isn’t measured in money.
Johnson & Johnson had a contaminated batch of Motrin. The correct thing to do would have been to issue a recall of the product. They didn’t. Instead they hired paid consultants go to the various stores to re-purchase the contaminated medicine.
What if you bought your Motrin the day before? What if they only went to the chain pharmacies and supermarkets and not your neighborhood Mom and Pop store?
Ethics, whether from an individual or a corporation, has an effect on how we as a community of people live together. You might not like certain members of your community, but there is an expectation that there are things we do and don’t do in order to live, work and function in the same space.
Lauren Bloom at the Business Ethics Blog wrote a post about the home outside of Tennessee where the fire department allowed a home to burn down because the owner forgot to or did not pay the $75 fee. Ethically, this is counter to the honorable goals of firefighting.
Yet the ethical lesson is being repeated again. We don't seem to understand. The current mortgage foreclosure freeze is in place because some of the banks and mortgage companies did not properly inspect or verify the information on the foreclosure documents.
Big deal you say? People shouldn’t have bought more house than they could afford.
Yes, you read that correctly. Banks are foreclosing on properties they do not own. Or they can’t figure out the actual owner, so they go after the last person holding the bag.
The letter of the law is on the bank's side. The spirit of ethics is slapping herself upside the head, whispering, “No, not again.”
Ethics matter. It might be too late for current lump of adults to get their act together. Perhaps if we start with young children and work our way up we can restore whatever ethical compass we had.
Let’s start at the soda fountain. Or you can speak your piece in the comments.Resources:
- To start conversations about ethics check out the American Ethics Union is Eight Commitments of Ethical Culture.
- Parents might find helpful tips from Dr. Michelle Borba has an article on her site that gives tips on about teaching ethics to strengthen children against a decade of moral erosion.
Photo Credit: Like_the_Grand_Canyon.
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