Did you catch the story about the “Wet Seal” chain of clothing stores? They are folding up. That’s not the story. When employees asked their managers why new inventory wasn’t coming in, they were told the stores were going to be remodeled. Management knew the chain was going to fold. Did they have an ethical responsibility to share that information with their employees and customers? Even if withholding the information about closing the stores was justifiable, was it proper to lie?
Arguably, making the closing public could have hurt holiday sales. People might not have been willing to buy from a store that was slated to close. I don’t want to argue all the angles right now. I just want us to consider this question: When making decisions, do we have any moral obligation to ask ourselves whether we are doing the right thing?
I recently got involved in a civic project to prevent something the local community wanted to prevent. The city said that they had no information until the date the passed to legally stop this thing from happening. Then they threw up their hands and said there was nothing they could do. This same city filled 3 of 5 elective positions with appointments because “they couldn’t find anyone to run for office.”
These may be legal moves but are they ethical? When we are in a position to affect lives, do we have any obligation to ask ourselves, “is this the right thing to do?” I think we do. I do believe we have a responsibility to ask ourselves the question and give it sincere consideration.
You can’t please all the people all the time. All mature people understand that. That’s not the point. The point is whether ethics should be brought to the table along with agenda, motives, goals and personal desires. I say yes.
Life gets harder when “doing the right thing” is part of the picture. Sometimes that brings a cost. In the case of Wet Seal, letting word out that the chain was folding certainly would have impacted holiday sales. Or would it? People may have seen that as a ‘fire sale’ announcement and flocked to the stores. They may have anticipated lower prices. It’s hard to say what the net impact would have been. To the question of “doing the right thing,” we have to consider who is impacted. In the Wet Seal case, the employees were potentially damaged but the shareholders sheltered. What about the customers? I can’t argue for any side in this post. My axe to grind is solely with the question of whether ethics should be considered. I say yes.
Research has shown that simply telling a positive story changes behavior. There was a study done a few years ago where a professor simply read the good Samaritan story to a class. Then his graduate students staged events for students to encounter after class. For example, someone might drop a book or a few papers. Students who heard the story in class were far more likely to stop and help than students who had not heard the story (not in the class).
Maybe giving ourselves just a minute to consider the question, “am I doing the right thing?” is enough to tilt our decisions in a slightly better direction.
It’s worth a try.
Chris Reich, TeachU