Are ethics in the eyes of the beholders?

May 27, 2012

If you saw the movie Bernie, you know that ethical issues are not always clear cut.  The movie tells the true story of a gregarious, generous-hearted fellow who lived in Carthage, Texas.  Everyone in the community loved him, but he killed his wealthy benefactor–shot her in the back four times and stored her body in the freezer.

Bernie should have gone to prison, right?  Well…not according to almost everyone who lived in the town of Carthage.  His benefactor was less than popular, and Bernie was otherwise such a nice guy and had been so generous to so many needy and appreciative people that almost everyone in the town was willing to give Bernie a “pass.”  Pro-Bernie sentiment was so high that the Sheriff requested a change of venue so that Bernie, who had actually admitted to the killing, could be found guilty.

Bernie did go to prison, but this true-life story demonstrates that different people with different life experiences may have very different views about what is right and what is wrong.

The same holds true when it comes to ethical issues that face those who accept turnaround engagements.   As you may recall from my article, Deconstructing the Code, which was circulated when I appeared on a panel at the annual conference of the Turnaround Management Association, there are huge disagreements among leading professionals about what is ethical and what is not.