Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Beginning of Ethics

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Beginning of Ethics

Article excerpt

I'm an attorney, so it may strike some readers as oxymoronic that I should be writing about ethics. But as an attorney I am constantly faced with ethical issues, not the least of which is honesty. Let me illustrate with a true story:

As I sat across the desk from my client, asking him some tough questions, I began to get the feeling he wasn't shooting straight with me.

"Let me just ask you the bottom line question," I said. "Did you do what they're accusing you of?" "No," he said unconvincingly. "Are you sure?" I pressed him. "I didn't do it," he reiterated. But I remained skeptical. "Tell you what, I'm going to walk down the hallway and get a cup of coffee, and when I come back, I'm going to ask you that question again -- so be thinking about the answer." I left my client alone for about 10 minutes and returned with my coffee. "OK, let me ask you again," I said, sitting down. "You don't have to," he said. "I lied to you. Yes, I did it. Now, what do we do about it?" I was relieved to finally know the truth so we could begin to work on solving the problem. But I was even more relieved to find out my client had a conscience. In that 10-minute break, something deep down inside of him bubbled up and motivated him to tell the truth. Maybe it was something a parent said to him as a youth. Maybe it was a lesson from Sunday School years ago. Maybe he was just scared he'd get caught later on and figured he'd better fess up before things got worse. Whatever it was, he finally came around to telling the truth. And truth is something we could all stand a little more of in business and government these days. The standard The old saw says "honesty is the best policy," but this is a fallacy. What this saying really means is, "honesty is an effective means to reach the goal you want," and if that's an accurate translation, then this kind of honesty is not rightly motivated. If we look at honesty as a Machiavellian means to an end, we've drained honesty of its virtue. In those times when honesty is not "effective" or "business smart," we'll be tempted to abandon honesty for something else that works. No, honesty is not always the best policy in business or in government. …

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