October 26, 2007

Do You Have Different Types of Ethics?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at Westmont (my alma mater) to the Business Ethics class. There were even a few pre-med students in the class so they got to hear the story of a doctor bound student who took a different road.
In preparing some material I began to formulate some questions regarding having multiple types of ethics. I asked the class, "Have you heard of Marriage Ethics, Sports Ethics, Driving Ethics, or Raising Kids Ethics?" They all said, “No.” But they were taking a class called “Business Ethics”. Why do we have an entire subject dedicated to Ethics in Business?

Yesterday morning I had breakfast with my college coach and we were talking about how it is often easy to justify a different set of ethics in sports. A similar example came up in my conversations with the class when one of the students talked about the last World Cup the USA Women's soccer team won. I had not heard this but the USA goal keeper had stopped a shot during a shoot-out that won them the game. After the game was over a slow motion replay showed the goal keeper steeping forward towards the shooter. In soccer this is illegal as you can only move laterally to stop the ball during a shoot-out. In keeping with a single sports theme, would you slide tackle someone in soccer knowing you could not get the ball to keep them from scoring?

If you knew it meant the difference between winning or losing the World Cup would you take a step forward? It is cheating and against the rules, but could you justify it for that? I don't know if the goal keeper did it on purpose or accident, but she did break the rules.

As a separate example if it meant paying the rent or not paying the rent, would your normal ethical actions change? Do your ethics change when you have more to lose?

During my research I found a quote that my buddy DJ had told me a while back from John Maxwell and made it the topic of discussion with the class.
“There's no such thing as business ethics—there's only ethics. People try to use one set of ethics for their professional life, another for their spiritual life, and still another at home with their family. That gets them into trouble. Ethics is ethics. If you desire to be ethical, you live by one standard across the board.”

The discussion in class was great and they really had awesome insight. Way better insight than I had during college. They even asked me some questions that I had not thought about with regard to a few personal experiences I shared with them. The short of it came to the fact that when there is more at stake you are more willing to move the ethical line. I even got a question during one of the discussions from a student asking if there was any way to “spin” a message so that it did not seem so bad. He didn't use the term “spin” but I think that was the underlying question. It is the dilemma of a whole truth versus half truth. If you tell half the truth does it cancel out not telling the whole truth, and is a half truth more ethical when there is more at stake? I say no, but my experience has showed me that when more is at stake what is ethical becomes hard to see.
I have not read John Maxwell's book, but his underlying premises is The Golden Rule still applies to life. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Thanks to moms around the world (especially mine), you were right.


Brendan said...

I love that quote from Maxwell, so often people compartmentalize things in their life, but ethics just can't be organized that way.
Kevin, I just came by this blog for the first time today! Love it! I'm at the same fork you are...going out on my own, I just haven't chosen yet. give me a call! - Brendan@techsoap.net

Kevin Sturm said...

Brendan that's awesome. I'll shoot you a message. We need to meet up the next time I'm in LA or you're in SB.

Chrystal Sturm said...

Honey, you are so hot!