Before pointing a finger or judging politicians and celebrities for their ethical scandals, we should question our own actions to see if they meet the same ethical standards. Today’s news is filled with reports of ethical lapses and commentary. Politicians and celebrities are under tremendous scrutiny and it would be interesting to see how many average Americans, who would consider themselves ethical people, make unethical decisions every day.
When a person makes a promise with no intention to keep it, he or she is being unethical. Consider traditional marital vows and the promise to remain faithful. Yet, how many married people commit adultery? When a person becomes a licensed driver, he or she promises to abide by all the laws of the road. But, how many people knowingly exceed the speed limit? Stealing is unethical. Still, how many people take things from their company’s office supply closet and bring them home for personal use? Using force or fraud is unethical. Yet, how many people lie on their resumes to obtain a job?
Children see things clearly when it comes to ethical matters. Ask a child if stealing is wrong, and he will say it is without question. Ask another child if lying is wrong and she will say that of course it is. Adults, however, find a way of justifying and excusing unethical behavior.
On March 3, 2010 Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) temporarily gave up his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee after being admonished by an ethics panel for taking two corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. The panel is also investigating Rangel’s campaign finances and possible unreported income from rental properties. There are additional inquiries into whether Rangel paid taxes on a property in Dominican Republic and an allegation that he used his office to raise money for an academic center named after him.
Republican Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford’s marriage infidelity and ethical lapses have also been widely reported. He is now facing 37 ethics charges. The charges include allegations that he broke state laws more than 36 times by violating rules on airplane travel and campaign money. Sanford continues to ignore members of his own party who urge him to step down because of his ethical lapses.
Best-selling author Charles Pellegrino is coming under fire for lying about his credentials and making up sources. His recent bestseller The Last Train to Hiroshima is an account of events leading up to the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. It received excellent reviews. But now it’s alleged that Pellegrino made up portions of his book as well as lied about completing his Ph.D.
Critical thinkers must question their own behavior before judging others. When we force ourselves to act more ethically, expectations will change and society will benefit.