Signing Off on Ethics

Last Updated Jun 23, 2008 11:12 AM EDT

The thing about writing an ethics blog is that I can't tell people what's right and what's wrong. They made up their minds about that long ago. The gray area is that people have their own, very different definitions, of what is wrong. So the best thing I can do is tell them it's OK to do what they think is right. When I get emails from readers asking advice, it's usually just a desperate plea from someone who wants to be told that the right thing is the right thing.

In business, doing what is right is often a scary proposition. It involves standing up to a superior, saying no, or saying goodbye. With "My career!" in the back of your mind at all times, these are not easy things to do. But I believe that living with yourself is even harder when you facilitate something you know to be wrong. Wherever you go, there you are. You are the sum of your actions, not the sum of your bank accounts.

There are many people who think they're so clever when they say that "business ethics" is an oxymoron. It's easy to cower under this idea; the news is filled with reprehensible acts by companies who have sold their soul for profit. But it's simply not true. Statistics have shown that companies who behave ethically outperform those that do not. "Good guys finish last." I don't think so. Last in what?

There are no perfect companies because there are no perfect people (and there are certainly no perfect ethics bloggers). Perfection is not attainable because right and wrong are not absolutes. The best thing I can do is strive toward a more perfect character by weighing right and wrong, and trying to find the former. Simply considering the two is the first step, and I've enjoyed doing that together with my readers.

--William Baker

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.