Are your ethics up for sale?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.
Angelo Agrizzi’s bombshell revelations at the Zondo Commission have revealed the lengths and depths humans will go to for money.

We must however not blame money for the things people do to get it.

Many people have at some or other time light-heartedly said, “Oh, I’ll do anything for money!” It now appears that more and more business people, politicians and public service employees really will do anything for money. The question is: Why?

There are a few myths about money that need to be highlighted which will help us answer this question.

Money Myth 1: Money is evil

It’s common knowledge that some people regard money as evil. There are also others who regard money as good. But both views are actually incorrect. Money is in fact neither good nor evil but is completely amoral – it merely takes on the morality of the people in whose hands it rests.

Good people will therefore automatically use money to do good things, like help the poor, build hospitals to help the sick and invest in other such philanthropic projects. Evil people will however use money to achieve different goals, like purchase arms and ammunition to kill and maim in the name of their particular cause or use it in other ways to help them achieve their selfish goals.

If you’re a good person, don’t shy away from money. Make a conscious effort to see that the money to which you have access, both in your personal or professional capacities is put to good use.

Money Myth 2: Money corrupts people

As stories of bribery and corruption have emerged, we could be tempted to think the people who gave the bribes and the people who received the bribes were corrupted by money.

That’s not true. Money does not corrupt people. Money simply reveals character. An ethical person who is offered a bribe will not be tempted by money, no matter how much is waved around – or stuffed into a Gucci handbag. They would simply politely decline or return the gift.

I have first-hand experience of such ethical people who simply have no price at which they can be bought. They have never, even for one minute, considered accepting large amounts of money offered to them for dubious reasons. I believe it’s important to make this point because, while corruption needs to be exposed wherever it occurs, we seldom, if ever, get to hear about the good guys who refuse to be bribed. No-one goes around saying, “I was offered a bribe but I didn’t accept it!”

Should you ever be confronted with a person who seeks to bribe you, bear in mind that, should you accept the bribe, you have revealed to yourself the nature of your character as an unethical person. You have declared to yourself and others that your ethics are for sale. You then have to be prepared to live with the consequences that come with having sold your soul.

Money Myth 3: Poor people are fair game for bribes

This myth is based on another myth – that all poor people (who are short of money) are dishonest, while wealthy people (who aren’t short of money) are not. Wealth and poverty have absolutely nothing to do with honesty, integrity and ethics. There are thousands of poor people who are as honest as the day is long and there are thousands of wealthy people who are unethical and greedy. And when you’re greedy you never have enough. No matter how much you get, you always want more.

In the same way that money is amoral, so we need to understand that wealth and poverty cannot and should not be linked to honesty or dishonesty. You will find honest and dishonest people at every level of society.

The important question, though, is: Do you have a price on your head? If you do, your ethics are up for sale.

Useful resources:
HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent.
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