One day a friend casually mentioned  pirating some software on her job. When I asked her if that wasn’t stealing, she shrugged and said, “Everyone does it.”

That’s not really news, of course. Years ago, Time magazine had an essay that made a huge impression on me. That piece, Larceny in Everyday Life, explored a growing trend among folks who considered themselves moral and honest. 

As the journalist discovered, these upright citizens saw nothing wrong with stealing from their employers. They weren’t embezzling money, for goodness sake. Pens, copy paper, even ground coffee from the employee lunchroom were finding their way into employee homes.

This pervasive, “it will never be missed” attitude was costing companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Now I like to think that integrity goes up when we’re the ones owning the business. For the most part, the folks I deal with are unfailingly honest. That’s why I’m easily shocked when I see someone who is self-employed deviate from the honesty path.

One of the more blatant examples of that happened recently during the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There’s a man I follow on Twitter who describes himself as an entrepreneur and marketer who will help us grow our small businesses faster and smarter, who arrived in town in the middle of the event.

The next day, he startled me by posting a message crowing about the fact that he and a companion had crashed CES. Clever fellow or common crook? 

I commented on his message with a question which was, “And this is admirable because…?” 

His response? “Admirable, no. Fun, yes.” 

He might have saved some money, but it could have cost him far more than he saved. Is this someone whose advice I would want to take? Would I want to do business with him? Not likely.

The thing about integrity—or the lack of it—is that it’s sometimes easier to notice when it’s missing in someone else, but it may not be so obvious in ourselves. I’m thinking of a writer I know who frequently passes on eloquent quotes without attribution.

When I questioned him about such things, he said, “When I read something I like, I just think I’d like to have said that, so I do.”

“You’ll feel differently,” I suggested, “when someone takes something you’ve written and passes it off as their own.”

”Oh, I’d be flattered,” he insisted.

Apparently, he didn’t share the philosophy of another writer who had a clear policy about such matters. “I’d rather be caught holding up a bank than stealing so much as a two-word phrase from another writer,” asserts Jack Smith. Larceny is larceny and size really doesn’t matter.

Every one of these examples have something else in common: the fact that they talk about getting away with these little larcenies suggests that they see nothing wrong with them. 

Maybe I’m naive, but I tend to side with the philosopher who said, “The person who can’t be trusted in small matters, can’t be trusted at all.”

9 Responses to “Honesty in Everyday Life”

  1. Maureen Thomson

    Barbara,

    Congrats on an excellent piece. Thanks for taking on one of my pet peeves. I would advise every entrepreneur–every human being, for that matter-to take the time to write down their values along with a one or two like description of how those values will manifest in their life. (Hint: The Ten Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management by Hyrum Smith gives a great overview of how to do this–just ignore the preachy overtones if that’s not your thing.)

    I did this several months back (as did my husband, who works with me on our business) and we both found that it makes life so much simpler. Whenever I grapple with a choice, all I need do is refer back to my written values. End of story. Who says life doesn’t come with instructions?

    A Perfect Example. Yesterday, I was looking online to purchase a futon cover. The one I liked best was featured at WalMar.com for $30. My dilemma? Well, since three of my listed priorities are Integrity, Equality and Shopping Local, I have eschewed WalMart. But darn, they had what I wanted at a fabulous price! When I mentioned my dilemma to my husband, he calmly said (having read my values list), “this decision should be a no-brainer. Move on.” Sigh….sometimes doing the right thing is NOT what I want to do!

    Alas, he brought me to my senses (i.e. Read the list, Dear) and I kept hunting. Another few minutes of looking and I found the futon cover on another website for $10 less. (Okay, so I had to compromise on the Shopping Local value, but given that I live in the sticks, I aim for 80% on that one.)

    As Henriette Klauser states, “Write it down, Make it Happen”. When it comes to our values, nothing holds more true than that. I agree with you that when we compromise on this, everyone pays in the long run.

  2. Barbara Winter

    Thanks for this, Maureen. Great example. We’re going to be doing some values clarification at Inspired Livelihood in Sedona. It matters more than we think. Lip service doesn’t serve us at all.

  3. Elle Lyzette

    The past few months I have been experiencing the feeling of other writers “borrowing” my quotations, which I wrote, without ackowledging who wrote them. At first I was flattered, yet it is beginning to feel like an invasion. On my blog, I always credit the person quoted, if that be the case. Just because other people feel it is acceptable, does not make it morally correct for me. Thank you for the insight.

  4. Barbara Winter

    Maybe we should rewrite that old imitation cliche to read, “Imitation is the highest form of laziness and lack of imagination.”

    I also find it distressing that the Internet has contributed to the faulty attribution of quotes. It’s like that old telephone game where you whisper a message that goes from person to person and comes out completely distorted by the end. Nearly every day, I see a quote posted on Twitter or elsewhere that’s attributed to someone who didn’t actually say it in the first place.

    Some people think such things are petty. To that I reply, “You’re not a wordsmith, obviously.”

  5. Regina Mize

    I often find that people who have this mindset that it is okay to “borrow” the real or intellectual property of others often have a deepseated insecurity in themselves and are operating from a form of poverty consciousness. Deep down on some level these people believe that they can’t provide these things for themselves, and don’t value their own gifts and unique talents.

  6. Denise

    It is all so iritating to say the least and when someone is called out and their response is something like, “Well everyone does it.” or “It’s not a big deal.” I say, “Well no, not everyone does it and it most certainly is a big deal.” It takes someone who lacks common sense and respect. To behave in this way, shows no respect not only for yourself but also for the other person/s, or company, the act is being inflicted upon. (the Golden Rule) ‘Treat others the way you would want to be treated.’ It isn’t negotiable! Simple. Period.

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