Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
offences per diplomat, followed by Egypt (141), Chad (126) and Sudan (121). The diplomats
from countries such as Sweden and Denmark, however, received no parking ines at all.
Apparently the culture of the country in which one is brought up affects one’s morality, which
in turn affects one’s behavior, even if one resides in another country.
Experimental research by Abigail Barr and Danila Serra exhibits similar results. In all kinds of
imaginary scenarios 285 participants from 43 countries were asked to state to what extent they
would be prepared to slip an oficial some money in exchange for a tax reduction, preferential
treatment in a legal case, or faster treatment in a hospital. Another part of the group had to
decide, in the role of oficial, how likely they would be to accept the money in the different
situations. Again it turned out that the nationality of the participant correlated with the extent to
which bribes were offered and accepted.The higher the position of the country onTransparency
International’s corruption index, the higher the willingness to give and accept bribes.
Explaining people’s behavior requires more than just the person’s character, his ‘disposition’:
we must also understand the situation (for instance the ines for trafic offences) and the
system (for instance the culture of the homeland). Corruption is not purely a question of
rotten apples (contaminated or infected individuals). The barrel, or even the orchard, could be
contaminated and spoil the apples. Corruption can be ingrained in the environment so that
in the end everyone is infected with it. Just as humidity inluences the extent of rot in the
apples, the air quality in an organization (the organizational culture) inluences the extent of
corruption among employees, because employees are continually breathing this air in (and
back out again). As the chairman of a research commission once concluded on corruption
among the police, ‘It is sometimes less dificult for a new police oficer to become corrupt
than to remain honest.’
It is important to examine what factors help and hinder the rotting process. We must also
ask who is behind the barrels and the orchard. Who are the owners, growers and pickers?
Often these people remain out of range when scandals erupt. Furthermore it is important to
establish who and what determine the quality of the apples. A fruit grower’s task is not only to
prevent rotting, but to cultivate apples of a high quality. In organizations it is therefore not so
much a matter of preventing employees from becoming corrupt as ensuring that they lourish
and bear fruit.
8. Apples, barrels and orchards: dispositional, situational and systemic causes