by Allen Laudenslager & Bryan Neva, Sr.
Businesses also create environments that force their employees to be less than honest or ethical in their business dealings. They provoke their employee’s anger and their employees retaliate by being vindictive, less productive, dishonest, unethical, or immoral. Since the start of the Great Recession of 2008, there seems to be a trend in business to return to a 1950’s style of management by fear and intimidation where managers assume the worst about their workers and must prod them to work harder. Isn’t it amazing how old management ideas are resurrected with new labels in the name of greater productivity? In the short-term, these methods will work; in the long-term, they’re destined to fail!
If you're in a leadership or position of authority, you have a moral obligation to be a good example and not provoke your followers to do the wrong thing. If you’re a follower, you have a moral obligation to always do the right thing regardless of what your leaders do.
You shall not kill is not just a metaphor. In the societies of biblical times, killing someone else for their land or possessions was a common occurrence. God admonishes us not to kill because to God each life is his precious gift and not man’s to take away. In the days of the American west, stealing someone’s horse was a capital crime. At first glance, this seems unduly harsh until you understand that a man without a horse was certain to die either from the harsh environment or from the hostility of the people around him. Thus, the horse thief was killing the victim either directly or indirectly. In today’s job market, putting someone’s ability to earn a living at risk so that we can gain a short-term advantage isn’t much different than stealing a horse was in the American west.
In Leviticus 19.1-2, 11-18, it reads:
"You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD."
"You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake. I am the LORD."
"You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."
The 8th Commandment
Not returning goods that were loaned to us; not returning goods that were lost when you could discover the owner; any form of business fraud; not paying just wages, or withholding benefits; not paying taxes or social security contributions; forcing up prices by taking advantage of ignorance or hardship; artificially manipulating the price of goods; any form of corruption or bribery; misusing company property; excessive business expenses and waste; poor workmanship; shirking one’s duties; forging checks and invoices; or vandalizing property.
Companies are notorious for this! When I (Bryan) was growing up in Minnesota, my father, who is a machinist by trade, took a job in the 1970s with Burlington-Northern Railroad (which is now a subsidiary of Warren Buffet's company Berkshire Hathaway) in a city about 150 miles north of where we lived. After my parents sold their home, bought a new one in the new city, and moved our family, the company abruptly laid my father and his colleagues off. Come to find out, the company only needed temporary work done as they were planning on closing that facility for some time. They kept it a closely guarded secret as they knew no one would take a job with a company that was planning on closing in less than a year. It certainly wasn't illegal at the time, but it was morally and ethically wrong on so many levels and I clearly remember the hardships this caused our family (as well as the families of all the other poor slobs that had the misfortune to take a job with Burlington-Northern Railroad). Fortunately, my Dad was able to find another job, but it was in another city that was 150 miles even further north, so we had to pack up and move again. The silver-lining in all of this, is that my Dad was able to get a job with a really great company (which is still in business today) and eventually retired with them with over twenty years of service.
David Callahan, Ph.D. in his 2004 book, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (see his web site: www.cheatingculture.com) explores many of the sociological impetuses behind the American culture of cheating. In nauseous detail, Dr. Callahan documents case after case after case of dishonest, unethical, hypocritical, immoral, and oftentimes illegal behavior in the legal profession (no surprise there), the judiciary, the government, in politics, in medicine, in business (no surprise there either), in accounting, in financial services, in sports, in journalism, and in academia (from preschool through graduate school). He also cites numerous examples of tax evasion at all economic levels, electronic piracy over the Internet, and wealthy individuals who exploit the system at the expense of the poor and middle class.
More than any one thing, the love of money seems to be the one common denominator to our cheating culture in America. Dr. Callahan makes a convincing argument that unless our American society reforms itself, our country may eventually end up like Brazil with pervasive corruption in every corner of society. He also offers many suggestions about how our society can transform to become more honest and ethical, but none so poignant as, “be a chump, and don’t be afraid to be a pain-in-the-ass!” In other words, be honest and ethical in everything you personally do regardless of the personal cost or what everyone else is doing. And at the same time, don’t be afraid to expose dishonest and unethical behavior whenever you encounter it. We're a bit more crude than Dr. Callahan as we'd tell you, "Don't take sh*t from anyone, and definately don't drink the kool-aid!"
When we covet, we start to put little gods before the one true God and we begin to break all the other commandments. When we covet, we begin to accept that it’s alright to steal the object of our desire or to lie to get what we want. When we covet, we begin the process of accepting that dishonest actions are acceptable to gain the object that we desire, such as another man or woman or a promotion or to curry favor etcetera.
Here are ten simple rules to live by that we extrapolated into hundreds of rules to follow in life and in our economic dealings with others. The Ten Commandments were given to show us how to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves. St. Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13.9-10).”
As flawed human beings, we may not always be successful in living up to these commandments, but keeping them as our central focus will help us to make the tough decisions we all face in life and in our business dealings.