I have spent thirty years discussing ethical issues with business people, doctors, and lawyers. While you might imagine high-minded discussions of complex issues, it is more often a matter of someone trying to escape responsibility for what they already know to be wrong. In ethics, it is usually not a matter of not knowing what is right. It is a matter of doing what you know to be right. Over the next series of posts, I will share some surprising ethical facts starting with this one:
- Ethics is often simple. Most people who do wrong things are perfectly well aware they are doing wrong things. Yes, there are challenging ethical puzzles but they have little to do with the choices we make in our daily lives. Does anyone imagine that the individuals who knew about the life-threatening ignition switches in GM cars did not know that selling these cars was wrong? They knew perfectly well but chose not to do anything about it to protect their positions in the organization. The question is not one of knowing right from wrong; it is a question of what made the organization so sick that knowing right from wrong didn’t matter.
By the way, this is one of the surprising ethical facts that I explain in Make an Ethical Difference.