Is it hard to be ethical and honest?

Temptation surrounds us all the time, temptations that test our honesty.  It seems hard sometimes to choose honesty over the prospect of free cash without getting caught. 

I returned to Malaysia to (ironically) deliver training on ethical conduct.  Even before the first training had taken place, i had already been tempted once – I’d taken a cab from the hotel to the office and upon reaching my destination, had requested for a receipt from the driver.  The cab meter showed $14 but what surprised me was the driver’s question to me – “how much do you want me to write on the receipt? I’ll put down $20 la (in true Malaysian style)”.  When i said no, he continued by saying “why waste the receipt, no one will know”.  To be perfectly honest, for a split second i was tempted to take up his offer to enjoy an extra $6 for doing nothing to earn it.  More importantly, i would have gotten away without anyone knowing.  It took me another second to overcome that devil on my shoulder and say no.

When i told this story to the class, they all laughed because such situations are common in Malaysia and we’ve come to accept it as normal.  Many believe that there is nothing wrong with doing that, which made me think hard – why is ethics so difficult to maintain?  Is it because we’re in an environment where petty cheats are everywhere or should i say in almost everyone.  

Everytime i’m tempted to sacrifice/corrupt my ethics – the question “why sell my soul for a pittance sum?” reminds me of the bigger picture.  Having read many research on the psychology of fraud and fraudsters, its been said that most people who cheat/ are dishonest try to rationalise their actions so that their conscience does not disturb them.  Our conscience is our moral self and over time, the more we rationalise our dishonesty, the less the conscience will prick. 

Some of the common rationalisation remarks are “it’s just a small sum, no one will care”, “everyone does it, so i guess it’s acceptable”, “no one will know”, “I need the money”.  When we start to believe these rationale, it is likely that we will continue to behave in the same manner when confronted by a similar situation.

Maybe we lack good role models to remind us that behaving honestly and ethically is the normal way.  Surely a society would benefit when majority of its residents are ethical, as the same logic would be true in reverse.  I have been fortunate to meet several people who have been steadfast and unwavering in their ethics, that it almost seems as-if, there is no questions about behaving ethically – it is the only way.   To be able to rise above temptation.


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Filed under Musings, Psychological Insights

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