What to Do When Money Conflicts with Ethics

by David Ning · 13 comments

I ran into the mailman yesterday as he was delivering mail to about 50 different mailboxes (for those that aren’t in an apartment, think of the post office where the P.O. boxes are all stacked together). When I reached for my mail, he hollered “oh no sir, you need to wait for me to lock them up before reaching in. I’m sorry for the delay but it will take a few minutes.”

I ended up leaving so I didn’t get what I originally wanted but what if I offered him $5 to look the other way? Do you think he would’ve taken the money? What about $20? What would you have done?

I was watching the local news when they interviewed someone who got tickets to the Michael Jackson memorial service. When asked if he would sell them, he said no to offers of $5, $50, $500, $1,000, $2,000 and then finally said “it would have to be $3,000 before I even think about it”. I’m not sure if he knew that selling the tickets is illegal and saying something like that on TV is ill-advised. Furthermore, some would argue that making money off someone’s death is immoral in its own right. Yet clearly, there comes a price point where he will give in and take his chances with the law and his conscious.

When do you draw the line? Does ethics really have a price? Before you answer, here’s how my parents taught me when I was young.

My dad worked in the TV broadcasting business in Hong Kong years ago when bribery was the norm. One time, he was offered a gigantic sum of money just so one of the commercials could air at a fraction of a second longer than allowed. At the time, everyone would’ve taken the money since it was almost undetectable but my dad refused. As a result, he did the right thing but he also pissed off the customers that indirectly hindered his career. Years later, when the government were cracking down on these types of cases, many of his colleagues were arrested while many more were scared out of their minds. Yet my dad, knowing he did the right thing, had no fear of punishment.

He did the right thing and it paid off. What would you have done?

Like the famous saying goes “What goes around, comes around.” Always do the right thing. Ethics over money, every single time.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • I like the story of you dad …. it goes to show that sometimes, in very unexpected ways, the ethical decisions you make now will pay off in the long run.

    Having a guilty conscience will eat at you; it will cause you to worry, to lose sleep, to stress. It adds anxiety to your life — and indirectly, shortens your lifespan. Is it worth it?

  • Neil says:

    Hi

    I like the example of your Father – a very good one to follow. Although my own Dad didn’t have a story like this, his natural sense of right and wrong has guided me in my dealings with others.

    I’m not sure that I see that much of a moral issue with the MJ memorial. The thing that I think is strange about that is that so many people are desperate to attend a memorial for someone that they didn’t really know. It says a lot about our obsession with celebrity.

  • Wilson Pon says:

    Ning, when it comes to the money, many people seem to forget about the ethics, as some of them might say, “I’ll keep my moral in first priority, if only you’re helping me paying the household bills and installments.”

  • Wealth Pilgrim says:

    Fascinating.

    On the way in to work there was a discussion exactly on this question. What came up was that our actions speak much louder than words – as in the case with your dad.

    I have made errors in this area in the past. I’m trying really hard to not repeat those mistakes. Thanks for your reminder.

  • MoneyEnergy says:

    Great story – yes, that would’ve been hard to resist, especially if you thought it was undetectable – but the story shows it’s always detectable in the end. I’m glad your dad didn’t have to worry. I think the Happy Rock makes a good point.

  • The Happy Rock says:

    I think you Dad’s story illuminates a one point that is often missed in business ethics. It is hard to be unethical in business without it coming back to bite you. It might 5, 10, 30 years, but eventually you end up in jail, or with a destroyed career. The short term gains, although tempting, aren’t worth the long term pain.

    The other side of the coin is the emotional and physical toll that comes from having to cover your tracks and keep you unethical behavior hidden.

  • marci says:

    Wish all kids had parents like yours 🙂
    Would have made my days as a school secretary much much easier.

    So hard to impart the ‘right thing’ to the grandkids these days, altho their parents are all trying to do it – what with their peers not all being taught the same values and TV putting down the same values…. Thank goodness both at home and in Sunday School they are absorbing the right values…

    But only time will tell which side ‘wins’ out….

    • MoneyNing says:

      Yup you never know how someone will react to different scenarios, but hopefully your grandkids will be more receptive to the “right” ones.

      I think the best way to teach them is to teach them lessons whenever they experience something similar. For example, teaching them about ethics and fraud is much easier when they are watching news about Madoff than when they are watching the superbowl for example.

  • CD Rates Blog says:

    sekishin — Exactly. Guilt and fear is not worth any price

    I always tell my Sunday school kids, make the decision now. Then it is much easier to say, “No.”. I share a scenario about ooey-gooey, fresh-baked, warm, chocolate chip cookies. There mom made 7 dozen, but said don’t eat one. Then she leaves. She’ll never know. But God and your heart will know.

  • sekishin says:

    How much benefit would be enough, if you could “get away with it” ? For most of us, we would never forget . . .

    • Jason says:

      This is so true, but a point that most people never realize until they are haunted by their actions.

      I wish there were more parents like David’s parents that will teach them with stories while they were young.

    • MoneyNing says:

      So true. The potential nightmares are definitely something I don’t want to even think about.

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