Lies about Ethics

No topic is more subject to lies than ethics. In fact, our thinking about ethics typically begins with a lie. Each of us tells our self that we are ethical while we are uncertain about the ethics of most everyone else. We are always the exception. Ethics is the subject of a lot of lies because it is very personal to us and is part of our self-esteem. If you do a lot of thinking about ethics, you may end up challenging the very foundation of who you are. But lies about ethics are not harmless. They keep us mired in endless ethical disagreement about some of the most important issues of the day such as immigration, executive compensation, and climate change. Over the next several posts, starting here, I will talk about some of the big lies about ethics.

You Can’t Teach People Ethics.

This is patently false since most parents teach their children ethical basics, albeit with varying degrees of success. Parents teach children ethics by using rewards, punishments, persuasion and example. And this mostly works. The goal of parental teaching is to equip us to make ethical judgments once we no longer have our parents to guide us. Since we know ethics can be taught, we have to ask whether we should be using the same tools to continue ethics education into adulthood. However, these tools are less effective with adults just because adults believe that they already know the truth about ethics.

Talk About Ethics

When you write a book, your publisher wants you to get a lot of publicity which means, among other things, doing a lot of radio and television shows. This has nothing to do with your own credentials. PR people just arrange this. As you might imagine, with ethics as a topic, a lot of these interviews turn out to be humorous at best. But I was interviewed by Pat Raskin who runs a radio show and company called Positive Business, and she helped me cover the key points. You may want to listen.

Optimism for Ethics

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of students and faculty at Boston University’s Kilichand Honors Program. I have done so many radio programs where the host asks me what is wrong with today’s young people that I wasn’t expecting much. My plan was to cover the main points in Make an Ethical Difference in simplified form. I got a big surprise. The students got very involved in the topic and, to my delight, they showed a level of ethical thinking that is not supposed to exist anymore. They were truly exceptional. The faculty at Kilichand were another pleasant surprise as many were dedicated to integrating ethics in the design of the overall curriculum. I know that this was not a representative sample, but it was a sample and the students and faculty were real! So while we are wringing our hands about today’s kids, please remember that there are some good ones – and some good adults too.

Quizes and Quanderies

If you would like to try your hand at 5 challenging ethical quandaries, you may want to visit (top right of this page). This is a blog that I maintain to encourage detailed discussion of ethics and compliance issues. Your comments are always welcome!


headshot of Mark PastinWelcome to Mark Pastin’s web site. You will find information about Mark and his publications, services and speaking engagements here. Mark started working on ethics and compliance problems in business, government and the professions in the early 1970s. His 1986 book, The Hard Problems of Management: Gaining the Ethics Edge, was the first to take a managerial approach to ethics in business. (See Publications for details.) In his new book, Mark shows readers how to use their own innate ethical sense to create organizational and social change. Make an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action was released late in 2013 and is available now at and Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Different Ways People Make Ethical Choices

You might enjoy this article from BusinessWeek about the different ways in which people make ethical choices:

BusinessWeek Article: The Different Ways People Handle Ethical Issues in the Workplace