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Web letter by Michael D. Coil: Model, reward ethical behavior to keep people doing the right thing

Ethical behavior is now on the minds of all Americans. Hardly a day goes by that unethical behavior is not highlighted in the media. The list of transgressors includes just about every institution in the fabric of our American tapestry.

In my 12 years with the BBB Serving Northern Indiana, I have observed businesses, charities and individual consumers committing unethical acts. To some degree, all of us have made unethical choices.

The Ethics Resource Center notes that most unethical behavior is not the work of real crooks or a flawed criminal mind. It is the result of basically honest people who have been corrupted by expediency and social conditioning. Rather than doing the right thing, too many folks concentrate on doing the right way. Pressures of the marketplace, productivity and life itself make it necessary to cut corners. The ends justify the means. As Tom Janke notes, “This whole process is reinforced by the tacit understanding that everyone is doing it.” You’re not speeding; you’re just keeping up with the flow of traffic. They’re speeding!

Unethical behavior seems to be thriving in this permissive environment. It becomes easy to rationalize, excuse or ignore bad behavior if no one plays by the rules. Even the best-intentioned have a difficult time existing in this environment.

There are many reasons for our condition, and many people have suggested solutions to cure this ethical dilemma. I would offer two things that each of us could do: education and rewarding those who do it right. The emphasis should be on teaching, not preaching. All of us are teachers; personal examples can be much more powerful than sermons or seminars. As business leaders, educators, parents and grandparents, we can have a huge effect on society if we take the time to tell young people why ethical behavior is important.

Dedicate two staff meetings a year to talk about ethical behavior in your organization. When you are hiring new personnel, have interview questions that cover ethical situations. Make it a priority to talk to your children and grandchildren about making ethical decisions.

Reward businesses and charities in this area that demonstrate a track record of ethical behavior. There are a number of places to help you evaluate these organizations: BBB, Angie’s List, Yelp and other consumer review websites.

I believe that a vast majority of people in northern Indiana strive to do the right things. I have observed these actions many times. Ethics and integrity are alive and well in northern Indiana.

Ethics is, after all, a very personal matter. It is easy to point out the failings of others. What we can hope for is that a great majority of people in northern Indiana will make it their mission to demonstrate what it means to do it right.


Retired President

BBB serving Northern Indiana