Being ethical can be expensive

I have always enjoyed the intellectual aspects of considering the ethical aspects of life and work. One of my favorite graduate school courses was business ethics and I had other classes on the subject in college, and decades ago, in a church youth group. The topics often were mind opening – considering what to do in difficult situations. There are many obvious examples of people in the business world operating unethically and taking advantage of others in some way for their own advantage. I have always tried to behave “above board” and do the right, ethical, thing. But I can firmly attest to the fact that doing so comes at a cost. I have certainly suffered for doing the right thing in several situations. In a job I held, I, and others, were asked to do many things that were unethical (like changing research results) or even illegal (making questionable campaign contributions). Confronting the unethical party and not “playing along” resulted in my losing a job. It may have been the proverbial blessing because it was out of that situation that Magnus was born. But, the costs were real and measurable. The stress of it all was also costly. In our trial consulting work we have also been asked by our attorney clients from time to time, however rarely, to do things that were unethical. We don’t follow their instructions if that is what they are asking and it has cost us a few clients over the years. The point of all of this is to say, doing the right thing is not always easy. It often comes with a personal cost, including financial costs. And, it is probably for that reason that some people go along and do not stand up for right or wrong. However, I think it is better to live with those costs than to risks being considered unethical, or worse, committing a crime, because I was not willing to do the right thing.

People have often criticized me for being too goody, goody; too prim and proper; and for taking an unpopular stance by not going along with the crowd.  Upon receiving this criticism, I usually remark that I am not working on a popularity contest; I am working to do the right thing. As an example, I once made a presentation to a statewide attorneys organization concerning ethics in litigation research.  I included in my speech a lengthy list of unethical things my clients have asked me to do on their behalf.  I also listed unethical actions taken by my clients which I have witnessed.  The topic of ethics in litigation research was unpopular among the members of the organization and resulted in their members rarely hiring me afterwards and never again inviting me to be a speaker at their annual seminar.  The looks I received upon mentioning some of these unethical actions conveyed an overall unconcern for ethical behavior, as well as a tendency to “shoot the messenger” for having the nerve to point out unethical conduct in an open forum.  Some of the unethical conduct is relatively minor, such as when a client steals my proprietary information from me, and is easily remedied when caught (I take back what has been stolen from me).  Other unethical behavior stems from a disconnect in what psychologists consider unethical behavior and what the general public, including attorneys, consider unethical.  An example of this latter situation is an attorney’s demand that I exclude all disabled people from participating as mock jurors, to which I have always responded, “No, as a psychologist and a member of the American Psychological Association, ethics dictate my behavior and ethics include allowing everyone to participate in research, as long as they meet basic criteria; these criteria never include exclusions of any protected class of people, such as disabled people.”  I have had employers request me to do unethical things, some of which led to co-founding Magnus, but as long as I am in charge of my company, ethical conduct will be at its forefront.  I agree with David that doing the right thing can be expensive, but doing the wrong thing is just not for me.

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