What do you do when your core values go against the grain of ethics?
Here’s an example: Imagine that your mother calls. You chat for a while, and then your mother asks to speak to your spouse. You know that these conversations never go well. They end with your spouse venting in frustration about your mother’s antics.
“Tell her I’m not here,” your spouse whispers.
You value your spouse. You certainly value peace and harmony.
But the ethics of it require you to lie. You are challenged to either violate your own values or violate the code of ethics.
Azamat Tazhayakov, Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos found themselves in a values-versus-ethics situation when they removed and disposed of a backpack from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the suspected Boston Marathon bombing suspect who was killed during the search for the perpetrators. His roommates were later sent to jail for destroying evidence in Tsarnaev’s backpack.
They certainly mistook the value of friendship as more important than the ethics of honesty and reality. At the time, though, they probably thought they were doing the right thing.
Their situation is obviously more severe than the hypothetical mother-versus-spouse situation I asked you to consider.
But does the severity of an ethical violation matter? Is it okay to abandon ethics when we are talking about little things, so long as you stay ethical when it truly counts?
I argue that the little things define you. If you are willing to abandon your ethics when the consequences are minor, imagine what you will do when the consequences are major!
This is a common theme in my work as a CPA. Accountants value their clients. They want to serve them well. And every day, accountants are given an opportunity to cheat a little here and a little there.
But cheating a little bit is a slippery slope. It makes cheating easier and easier, until one day, cheating becomes the norm. What do these folks do when they are presented with a major ethical decision, one that could either result in a major boom or a major consequence?
Why they cheat, of course!
Your ethics are a code by which you decide to live. They define what type of person you are. If you decide that you are going to be honest, except when it is inconvenient to do so, you have decided that you are comfortable being a dishonest person.
A true test of your commitment to living an ethical life is when you behave ethically when it is inconvenient to do so.
What do you think? Is it this black-and-white, or is there some gray area here?