Business Ethics are Human Ethics

The rules are pretty simple really. Treat other people fairly. Don’t cheat, steal, lie or cause harm to another person.

Most people play by these rules. They are good rules.  If other people are honest in their dealings with you, things are pretty good.

The reason we have to keep clarifying what is ethical and the reason we have to discuss it is because some people like to cheat to gain an unfair advantage. They view life as a competition and compete. And that’s not an entirely bad thing.  A competitive streak helps us strive to be better and to do better.

But even if we are just playing a game of Candyland, even the most cutthroat game of Candyland (and yes my family plays by our own rules -, we still have rules we have to follow.

The rules make sure everyone is treated the same and has the same chance of success. People who cheat rob others of the chance to succeed. It does real harm. Well, not if you are playing Candyland, but real harm if it’s in business. You get my point.

Ethics only really becomes complicated when people bend the rules a bit to see if they can get away with a little cheating. If caught, they argue, well, it wasn’t exactly against the rules, even if it was against the spirit of the rules. We as a society then have to employ lawyers and judges to judge and rule whether what happened was technically against the rules or not. (I don’t entirely understand the lawsuits involving the NFL at the moment, but my husband assures me, it’s about this sort of skirting the edge of the rules to gain an advantage sort of behavior by all parties.)

What I want to encourage you to do, as a human being, is to understand this: business ethics are human ethics. If you would consider it unfair if it happened to you, it’s unfair and therefore unethical, even if it’s technically legal.

And no, I do not respect those who bend the rules to their advantage. Just as I would consider such a person a cheater if I was playing a board game with them, I consider them a cheater and unethical if they employ such rule bending tactics in the world of business. Such behavior robs other people of the opportunity to succeed.  If you can’t win by playing fair, then maybe you don’t deserve to win.

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