Ethics in Everyday Life: I’m Thinking You’re Protesting Waaaaay Too Much, Part One.

When one person makes an accusation, check to be sure he himself is not the guilty one.

Sometimes it is those whose case is weak who make the most clamour. 

—  Piers Anthony


A couple of months ago someone posted a question on a human resources group on LinkedIn, which went something like “You’ve offered a job to an applicant who stated she was still working for her former employer. It turns out she was let go (not for performance reasons), and is NOT employed by them.  She apologizes, saying she didn’t want her current lack of employment to be a factor in the decision of whether to hire her or not.  Would you rescind the job offer?” 

I was the first to respond, saying “Rescind. At best, this could be considered poor judgment (and perhaps desperation on the part of someone unemployed who really needs a job). However, this isn’t even merely an exaggeration of qualifications… it’s an outright lie. She’ll do it again.”

I later wrote: “When you hire this person, you will have set the stage to condone lying – even if it is for a good reason (it’s not her fault other employers have some elitist and totally unrealistic vision of what makes a good employee e.g. currently employed elsewhere). 

“In the future, if something goes wrong with this employee, she’ll always have the fallback position of ‘Hey, you hired me knowing I lied’. That puts the company in an indefensible position.”

Since then, the discussion has generated more than 2400 posts; most of which I haven’t read.  The reason?  The postings almost immediately deteriorated from a professional discussion into an accusatory, name-calling, free-for-all on the part of those siding with the unemployed applicant.

Those who wrote that they would rescind the job offer to the applicant seem, on the whole, to be calm and rational in defending their positions.  (“She lied, pure & simple”, “If she’ll lie to get a job, what would she do once in the position?”, “It’s a slippery slope, and where would you stop?”)

There are some in the middle who are struggling with the issue.  And then… well, there are people who are completely over the top, infused with righteous indignation that “this poor woman” who is “desperately in need of a job” is “being judged” by the evil, hypocritical pawns of the bureaucracy….

So, after the first three or four hundred comments, far too many of which were nasty or downright ugly, I checked the little box on the discussion thread that stopped every single one of the next 2,000 posts from landing in my In Box.  They had been flooding in at a rate of a dozen or more per hour, and some were so venomous they were almost painful; at the very least they felt like a violation of my sense of emotional equilibrium in my own office. 

The proponents of maintaining the job offer—not all, but a great many of them—on the whole were presenting themselves as crusaders for justice against hypocrites… the “hypocrites” being those of us who believe that standing for certain principles helps create order and reduces chaos in this confusing world we inhabit. 

They were trying to prove that because we are all human and therefore we all make mistakes and do stupid things on occasion, that we should tolerate all instances of lapsed ethics or poor judgment calls.  The approach could be considered a humane one (ethics in support of the individual rather than arcane or high-falutin’ principles), except the accusations and belittlement of the rest of us by the proponents compromised that argument. 

In fact, the accusations were so extreme it seemed clear to me that they were trying to justify their own lapses by howling “But everyone does it!”.  They surely were protesting waaaay too much.

It all only served to reinforce my stand on the issue…. they were proving my point.  They were stirring up more chaos and anger and disgruntled feelings by their recriminations, their blame, their name-calling (and even some near threats—on a discussion group, for crying out loud!). 

I would have been happy to debate the issue in a reasonably rational fashion, but this level of drama?  No thanks.

The argument for the individual instead of a principle (or so-called “situational ethics”) is an important one to have.  However, it loses its value when courtesy, kindness and empathy are thrown out in the process.

Goddess Entrepreneur / The Sisu Project….

The only consultant & motivational speaker around to use Finnish mythology, hair-raising anecdotes, oddball humor and solid business principles to reach & teach your audience in the areas of leadership, ethics, guts, courage—and a simpler way of life.


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