Friday, March 26, 2010


What would you do if there was no one to stop you? If there was no one to point their finger or raise their voice? In our day to day lives we often assume that what's right and wrong is obvious. Our social conventions keep us in check when it comes to the basics.

Kicking the dog? Wrong.
Returning the wallet? Right.
Cutting in line? Wrong.

Acting unethically on a large scale is usually pretty noticeable. Human rights violations by world leaders fall into this category. Ethics on a small scale, however, is a different beast. Little breaches in the moral code can slip by unnoticed and often do no damage to your outward persona.

Take something a little more abstract than puppy kicking:

Let's say that you are a door-to-door salesman selling candy as a fundraiser for children with cancer. You are incredibly good at what you do and you've raised a lot of money to save children's lives. You also need this job because your family depends on you. One day, you discover that the candy you've been selling is manufactured in a factory that uses child labor and has miserable conditions. What do you do? Assuming that there is no other way to raise the money, is it wrong for you to continue selling the candy? Knowing that your own family would suffer without your job, is it wrong for you to quit? Moreover, are you responsible for taking action because you are now aware of the problem?

My ethical problem isn't that intense, but it still weighs on my mind.

Last weekend I ran a local race called Rapid Rabbit. I was attempting to qualify for second seeding at Bloomsday but missed it by a little over a minute. The required time for women was 37 minutes, I came in at 38:15.

Dwelling isn't my thing, so I forgot all about being bummed out until Thursday when Tony sent me the results from the St. Paddy's Day run. My time for that run ended up a little faster than I'd thought and got me wondering if I had actually gotten a faster time without realizing. So I popped over to their website and saw this:

Holy crap! I got 2nd place. 5 miles in 33:14!!!!! I'm gonna go buy my second seed singlet package right now. I can't wait to run Bloomsday without having to trip over people who are going to take more than an hour to complete it.

Best. Running. Year. Ever.

But wait...

My excitement slowly gave way to dismay when the tiny man in my head who does math asked, "Isn't that a 6.5 minute mile?"

Uh oh.

I currently top out at 7.5 minute miles for any distance over 2 miles. My heart sank, I knew it couldn't be right. But more importantly, I knew it was wrong.

I knew that I wouldn't accept a second seed position based on those race results. If I ever run a 6.5 minute mile, it will be because I worked for it, not because of a clerical error.

As Tony pointed out, not correcting the error could lead to someone else not qualifying if their time had been switched with mine. Believe it or not, that makes me feel sick to my stomach. I don't want to win like that. And I don't want to cause someone else to lose like that.

I sent an email to the race coordinator asking for the results to be corrected. Hopefully that will clear up any misunderstanding.

Why does any of this matter? No one would be forever damaged if I moved up a group at Bloomsday.

It matters because I didn't earn it, and it isn't mine.

My sense of right and wrong is strongly ingrained. The ideas that I have about ethics and morality are rooted in the Buddhist teachings of Right Speech, Right Conduct, and Right Livelihood. These tenets are usually defined as follows:

  • Right Speech - Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter.
  • Right Conduct - Training oneself to be morally upright in one's activities, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to oneself or to others.
  • Right Livelihood - Not engaging in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.

When I believe that I have a reason to question a situation, I consider those three things.

Ethical concerns sometimes crop up in the advertising/marketing world. Examples of this could be marketing a product you know to be harmful, or editing a photo to make an item look flawless when you know that it isn't.

Fortunately, my workplace ethics have not been put to any kind of harsh test. I like to think that if they are, I'll know what to do.

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