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Wednesday, December 9, 2009


What are the ethics of hoping someone has misbehaved so you can back-up your "gotcha" philosophy?

Is it ethical to create misconceptions for other people about someones behavior?

How ethical is it to destroy someone else's personal relationship?

Can people be trained to be ethical or are ethics learned as they are experienced?

If someone must attend "ethics training," whose ethics are they learning and how does he know the trainer is ethical?

If someone does something which you disagree with does that make them unethical, even that act is legal?

Whose ethics are more important, yours, mine, society's, whose?

Is it ethical to presume someone is misbehaving merely because they are in personal contact with someone you mistrust?

I love conversations about ethics. For the past three or four years I have had the honor of facilitating a discussion on how to define ethics for Leadership Long Beach's incoming class of participants. When a discussion on how to define ethics is started it quickly becomes apparent that ethics, like art, is hard to describe; we know it when we experience it. Or better yet in regards to ethics, we know it when we don't experience it.

The challenge with defining ethics, for me, boils down to "whose ethics?" Your personal ethics based upon your moral code, or my ethics based on my moral code? The ethics of your company or organization? While many like to purport a single standard of ethics, I challenge the assertion. A few simple questions shows that ethics are not universal. Is abortion ethical? Is the death penalty ethical? Is the confiscation of private property ethical? Is denying the homeless woman asking for food ethical? Is killing someone ethical? If they have broken into your home and endangering your children? Is something ethical just because it is legal?

Ethics, for me, are actions directed by morals that separate "good" from "bad." If we share the same morals then we probably share many of the same ethics. Companies and organizations have a culture that determines the ethics of that organization, typically based on the morals of the leadership and their values. As a society we have overlapping ethics, picture everyone walking around with the "ethics circle" surrounding them, some circles perfectly overlap and some are never touched--almost as if within society they have no circle. From the shared morals and ethics of the majority we derive our laws. Being a Republic our laws then govern us. Shared ethics codify in law.

Part of my ethics is understanding they are mine and may not conform to yours and vice versa. Therefore it is probable there are times when you consider me unethical, or I consider you the same. As long as neither of us is breaking the law and can disagree on what is ethical we can peacefully coexist. When you begin to feel that your ethics are more important than mine, that your moral compass is superior to mine, that I am being unlawful, immoral and unethical, in a situation where I feel I am not, when that happens we have a problem.

I am not a big fan of Conspiracists (don't look it up, I just typed it). Those who think every move made by someone in leadership or power is either unethical or illegal and done merely for self-advancement or monetary gain. You know the ones I am talking about, an elected official sneezes in their presence and they accuse them of trying to give them H1N1 to silence their criticism. The ones who find someone they dislike and then they create dislike and mistrust within the community. Using broad brushes they paint anyone who comes into contact with that person because to them he is unethical and always dealing in unethical matters. Conspiracists enroll others behind their attacks and accusations with the sole goal of discrediting other people's character and motives, essentially working to destroy careers. All under their banner of "ethics." Their perception of right and wrong. Because someone disagrees with them or wants to pursue an opportunity they do not like Conspiracists become personal in their attacks, move the discussion away from the opportunity or issue and instead try to make it a discussion on character. Conspiracists tend to be narcissistic and holier than thou, and me.

In the process they damage a community, create divides, breed contempt and facilitate mistrust. When they have accomplished this they smile and say, "look at what I have done, I have won."

For those not in the Long Beach area such a construction of false information and false accusations of unethical behavior is gripping our City Hall. Our City Council is immersed in discussions and debate and details to determine how to control individuals ability to speak with members of our government. A howl has arisen in our community demanding that anyone who leads a company, wants to create opportunities in our community for jobs and development, be limited in how and when and where they can present their ideas and opportunities to city officials. Our city is on the verge of codifying mistrust and declaring no one behaves "ethically" on their own, essentially saying the city is in the habit of hiring and electing unethical individuals whom we should mistrust.

This is all as a result of an over-reaction to a trip taken by two lifelong friends and their families. Two men who grew up together, whose wives and children are friends, had a weekend get-away with their wives as friends are apt to do. One friend is a consultant and represents a myriad of businesses and organizations who have businesses, or wish to have businesses, in the City of Long Beach. One friend works for the City of Long Beach and reviews and analyzes new projects and developments for the City Manager and Council. The families stayed at a hotel owned by one of the consultant's clients and at check out, without the city employee's knowledge or consent, issued a discount. We know this because upon returning to Long Beach and learning of the discount our ethical city employee repaid the discount and disclosed it to his bosses.

His ethics empowered him to action to do what was right. Now he is under scrutiny and an aura of mistrust and deceit is being built around him by the Conspiracists for they have long ago put his friend the consultant on their radar as someone to attack personally and professionally. By doing the right thing, by behaving ethically, our stalwart, competent and professional city employee has been tarnished.

Is it ethical to attack someone for doing what is right? Or would it be ethical to say, "this is what we expect of all of our employees, when they find out something happened that is not right to expose it, accept it and correct it?"

By their actions the Conspiracists have created an environment where future mistakes that are discovered may be covered up instead of exposed for fear of personal attacks and possible damage to their careers. By attacking two men who are life long friends for being friends the Conspiracists have made our city a bit more unfriendly to businesses, have created a bit more separation between City Hall and city residents and businesses, have created a bit more "Us" versus "Them" in our community. How is that for ethical behavior?

Ethics, I know them when I experience them, I know them more when I don't. Craig Beck is a good man who does good things for our city. Mike Murchison is a good man who does good things for our city. Both have good morals, good values and good ethics. Both work hard to improve our city and community. Neither deserves the treatment they are getting from the Conspiracists, who are getting too much press and exposure.

I hope there friendship continues for many, many years and it includes more trips together enjoying each others company and families. It isn't ethical to turn our backs on our friends when they have done nothing wrong.

1 comment:

John Greet said...

One of the many things I took away from the State-mandated 2-hour ethics course for municipal public officials (AB 1234) is that sometimes public perception of an official act or omission can be more important and have far greater impact than whether that act or omission was, in truth lawful or not, or ethical or not.

I get that these two gentlemen are long-time friends, Dennis. Truly I do. But when each chose the career paths and current positions that they did, especially in Mr. Beck's case as a public official, they likewise should have understood that they were making a conscious choice to alter their personal relationship with one another.

The Napa trip might, indeed, have been entirely innocent and completely innocuous. But that really doesn't matter. Mr. Beck represents the People of Long Beach. In doing so he, and everyone else who is honored to do so, *must* avoid even the perception of impropriety. That's just part of what every public official must accept when they take the job.

I personally like Mr. Beck. I think he's a solid and competent professional. But when he places himself in situations like this Napa trip, he unnecessarily subjects himself to ethical scrutiny and provides his detractors with ammunition with which to assault him that they otherwise would not have.

I guess the best summarization might be: "Just because one CAN do a thing, doesn't mean one always SHOULD".