When do the Ends Justify the Means?

The college admissions scandal is in the news these days. Wealthy parents bought their childrens’ admission into the university of the parents’ choice. It doesn’t appear that the children were complicit. The parents wanted the “best” for their children. These parents thought the ends justified the means of cheating and lying.

My $02: these parents are nuts. These parents believe that the network their children will have access to is of greater benefit than relying on the child’s personal achievements. The parents’ actions mean the child has an advantage. However, is the child ready to accept that benefit?

We lie and cheat all the time. Is there ever a time when lying or cheating is okay?

I try to tell those small white lies so I smooth the way at family events. My bluntness sometimes gets the better of me, but I do try. The ease of a family function is worth more to me than the literal truth. Maybe, it’s only the literal truth as I see it. That’s possible.

I have a much more difficult time with cheating for personal advantage as the parents did for their children. While I understand the parents’ concern, why didn’t the parents work with their children for the previous 18 years to help the children want the same thing as the parents did?

I have no patience or acceptance for companies cheating their customers.

Long ago, my employer wanted me to “stretch” the truth about the results of our testing to a very important customer. I refused. I was not going to lie to our customer. I explained to my managers that the customer might not be happy with us now. The customer would be furious if I lied. I explained how I planned to explain the facts.

They threatened to fire me. I told them to do as they wanted.

I called Mark and told him I might not be employed by the end of the day. He laughed and said, “I’ll investigate our health insurance here.”

Later, they called me into the meeting. (They hadn’t stopped meeting since I’d left.) The management decided my way might work after all. They blustered and threatened more. They were terrified that our Major Customer would walk. They were terrified they might not make payroll that month.

I could understand their concerns. I still thought the right approach was to explain where we were and our plans to make it right.

When I spoke with the customer, he was quite angry. We spoke more. He agreed because he and I had personal trust. He also wanted weekly updates for how we would make it right. I thought that was reasonable and agreed.

Sometimes, we need a crisis to change. When faced with a big problem like this, what do you do? Do the gray areas and possibilities overshadow the black and white ends of the possible decisions?

You might have made a different decision. You might have said that you wouldn’t lie, but they could. You might have gone along with their wishes. We make decisions based on our personal ethics and circumstances.

It depends on the problem, and the personal and work consequences. What choice works for you, when?

There is no right answer to this question. We all decide what fits for us, in each context.

The question for our personal leadership this week is: When do the ends justify the means?

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