Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flying high with integrity and honor

I'm not the most confident airline passenger. Regardless of how many times Bernoulli's principle is explained to me, I'm still a nervous flier.

So I'm not one to complain about long security lines. I figure anything that results in delaying my having to set foot on an aircraft is not a bad thing. Besides, I'm all for the Transportation Safety Administration folks doing whatever they can to make my flights safe.

I was a bit surprised, but not displeased, to learn awhile back that as part of its "competency development activities" in the area of integrity and honesty, the TSA recommends two of my books, one a collection of early "The Right Thing" columns.

The TSA defines integrity and honesty reflected in someone who "behaves in an honest, fair and ethical manner," someone who "shows consistency in words and actions" and someone who "models high standards of ethics."

Does knowing that the TSA uses my books as part of its training diminish my fear of flight? Not really. I've yet to see a TSA operative on break thumbing through the pages of one of my works, and even if I had, I'm not certain the most ethical TSA agent in the country has anything to do with ensuring the mechanical workings of the planes I'm about to board.

But its use of the books reminded me that some time ago, I learned that Microsoft also lists "The Right Thing" book as a recommended title on its education site in the integrity and trust competency area.

When I first learned this some years ago, I found it curious since one of the columns in the book calls into question Microsoft CEO's admonition to his employees to act with consistent values. In a message to the company's employees, the CEO wrote values "must shine through all our interactions -- in our work groups, across teams, with partners, within our industry, and, most of all, with customers." At the time I wrote the column, Microsoft was embroiled in antitrust issues that called into question its own consistency with what it claimed to value.

Do I have a responsibility to check with Microsoft to see if it knew it was recommending a book that questioned the company on the very issue for which it was recommending my book? Perhaps I'd be surprised that this was precisely why the company chose the title. Then again, it's the last chapter in the book, so whoever chose the title might not have gotten that far.

It's a question that's gnawed at me for some time. The right thing, I figured, was to let the folks who read the book decide for themselves if it was useful in spite of or because of that Microsoft chapter.

If the contents of the book provide TSA workers or Microsoft employees with any insight into behaving with ethics and honesty, that would be a good thing. It might not comfort me about the reliability of my computer software or the safety of being 35,000 in the air, but it might reassure me about the character of the people building the software and working the front lines of safety.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


alan owseichik said...

The fact that microsoft did something that seemed unethical does not mean that everything they do in unethical. Or that they want it to be so. And most lawsuits are about the most unethical thing in the world, MONEY. The ethics part is a good excuse to try and get $.
If they use your book, it is a good thing. If MS is in it, let their employees judge for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, I don't believe you owe any concerns about TSA or Microsoft's use of your books. As far as TSA, there is nothing they do that would seem to fit in with an organization doing things ethically, especially with what we've seen of their procedures the last few months. In fact, ethics seems to be the last thing in that organization's mind, especially the leaders, who seem to have no idea what the American people expect from the organization running airport security.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

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Can I skim some books from my friend's donation?

A reader we're calling Josh, owns a pickup truck. Josh seems a good enough fellow, indicating that in addition to using his truck as...