Month 2006 Ethics Dunces


San Franciscan John Suhrhoff turned over to police a Louis Vuitton bag he found on a park bench in Sausalito, because the bag contained diamond, pearl and emerald jewelry, a Cartier watch and about $500 in cash…around a million dollars over all. He blithely announced that his conduct was no big deal, that anyone would have done the same. (The bag was quickly claimed and returned to the owner, a visiting Canadian woman who had entrusted the bag to her evidently squash-headed husband, who can thank Suhrhoff for the fact that he will not spend the rest of his days in a dog house.)

Enterprising WFTV Channel 9 in Florida decided to ask visitors to its popular website what they would do in Suhrhoff's position, and an amazing 27% of the 15,000 who answered its on-line poll said that they would not have returned the bag, and presumably headed for the border. It's a disturbing result, because Suhrhoff was quite right: ethically, this is a no-brainer. There would never be any question that a bag of jewelry left on a park bench was lost, that someone owned it, that it would be reported and that the owner would be frantic. Applying the Golden Rule leads to the conclusion that you have to return it; applying any ethical system at all leads to that conclusion. It's even hard to devise persuasive rationalizations to justify any other result. "Anyone who would leave that much valuable stuff on a bench won't miss it?" Yeah, right. "Maybe they left it there intentionally?" Not bloody likely. "I need the money more than the owner does?" Why not go knock over a bank, then, on the same theory? "Anyone who is so careless deserves to lose the jewelry!" These won't pass the giggle test.

No, all these 4012 representative Americans are saying is that if the amount is large enough, they are willing to throw honesty, fairness, responsibility and caring out the window. It is sobering to consider, but probably a sad fact that a quarter of our neighbors, friends and fellow citizens don't hold ethical values in high enough regard to resist taking someone else's property if it is sufficiently enticing.

That's a lot of Ethics Dunces to overcome as we try to create a more ethical society.




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