Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
researcher then walked behind the child’s back to set up a large toy. He asked the child not to
look around. They would be allowed to see the toy later. Having set up the toy, the researcher
said that he needed to leave for a moment. On leaving he asked the child again not to look
around. The child was now alone in the room and was exposed to the temptation of looking
around. After a maximum of 5 minutes the researcher came back and asked the child whether
he or she had looked.
38 percent of the three-year-olds said they had looked, even though this was not the agreement;
quite a letdown. Lewis had, however, ilmed the children when the researcher left the room.
What did he discover? The footage showed indisputably that almost all the three-years-olds
had looked. Only 10 percent had not. It turns out that most of the children who claimed not
to have looked behind them were lying. Half of the children had therefore not only broken
the agreement, but had also subsequently lied about it. What about the ive-year-olds? They
all denied looking behind them, while two-thirds had actually done so. So over time lying
increases, though fortunately it seems so does the ability to resist temptation.
According to Lewis, lying begins with learning to speak. Of course the offense of looking
around in the experiment and lying about it is pretty innocent in the scheme of things. No one
was put at a disadvantage by it. It does, however, show that most people are unable to resist
temptation by nature and that lying starts at an early age.
Lewis incidentally found that children with a high IQ lied more often. That does not bode well
if it is people with a high IQ who hold positions of responsibility later in life. All the more
so, since temptations also increase. At work there are countless temptations. It is quite a
challenge to keep on the straight and narrow when major interests are at stake: that sorely
needed contract that can only be won with a backhander, that fall in the share price that can
only be avoided by slightly distorting the igures in the annual report, that mass lay-off that can
only be prevented by temporarily skirting around environmental law, or the iercely desired
promotion that can only be achieved by sabotaging the other candidate.
The good thing about Lincoln was that he did not allow himself to be bribed. He knew his
price and acted accordingly. When we know the price, which is established according to
supply and demand, we can work out which situations we must avoid in order not to fall
2. What is my price? Integrity as supply and demand