My course this semester is Business Ethics...and no that is not an oxymoron. But I do have to say, this is one of the toughest classes I've had to take thus far. It requires true soul searching to discover where your sword line lies...you know, the line where you will throw yourself on the sword rather than take an unethical action. In business terms, you'll give up your job for it. I'm still looking for mine. The struggle right now is that I've been lucky enough not to feel I've ever been pushed to do something truly unethical, or even close to it. And yet, when you look at the microinequities of every day occurrences, it is amazing how many things we (I) do that fall in an ethical gray line.
Yesterday, one of my fellow students got the hot seat where she talked about how she was uncomfortable that her boss asked her to process payments in 2009 for 2010 expenses. To pre-pay for some advertising, some sponsorships, some charities. I'm sure most of us have done something similar to this...it's the end of the year, there is some money left in the budget, you use it up. The difference being, her boss knows enough about the wrongness of this to request that she white out the dates on the invoices. At this point in the class discussion, our professor begins to counsel her on the dangers of tax fraud, that she may need to call the ethics hotline at work, and that she should cease this activity immediately and document every conversation she has. Holy cow! She thought she was just doing a class exercise and suddenly she needs a lawyer.
The thing that I've learned about true ethical dilemmas though is that it is not usually the choice between right and wrong, it is the choice between right and less right. In ever dilemma you must evaluate what are the two rights and begin to build your arguments for both. When you find the weak point in the argument, you find the less right action.
Then again, there remains the ethical dilemmas that are between wrong and less wrong as well. But whichever you face, there are questions that can help you. "Would I want this to be tomorrow's headline?" "Could I explain this to my mother?" etc. But the best advice my professor gave was this one, when you feel you are being forced to decide on something quickly just remember two things: (1) you should always have time to go to the bathroom (and think) before making a decision, and (2) remember this phrase: "If you must have an answer now, the answer is no."
I'm about to outline my final paper for this class which requires me to define business ethics, determine my own personal ethics, and evaluate an ethical dilemma...wish me luck.
And if you are wondering about what else I did besides 14 hours of school this weekend, check out the yellow cottage.