Sunday, March 28, 2010


Recently a reader in Georgia used an Internet list service to post a job opening at his company. He posted the job anonymously, listing only the job opening and the county in which he was located. That would be enough to keep his identity secret, he figured, since there are more than 125,000 people in the county.

In spite of his efforts, however, one applicant figured out who he was. She asked her boyfriend to read the job post, and he deduced who had placed the listing - based, my reader assumes, on the type of job and the county indicated in the advertisement.

This applicant sent her cover letter and resume to a blind e-mail address, as instructed. So did 173 other applicants in less than 48 hours. Only her cover letter was different.

"I know who you are," she wrote, "because my boyfriend said that he loaned you $20 one evening at a quick-food stop after you left your wallet at home. He said you then thanked him publicly by writing `Thank You' to him on your display board outside your office."

Her deduction was correct. My reader confirms that he did indeed post his public thank-you to the boyfriend who had loaned him money in his time of need. So my reader was sitting with the application from the girlfriend of this fellow who had helped him out, which ordinarily might have raised her name to the top of the heap of incoming applications.

There is, however, a problem.

Knowing the boyfriend, who works as a lay minister to a crowd that frequents a local coffee shop, my reader also knows that he is a married man and that he and his wife recently had a child.

"Do I confront the boyfriend at the local coffee shop, which I also frequent?," my reader asks. "My first thought was to go to him and say, `You know, you talk about how God works in mysterious ways. Well, I have a message from God: Stop messing around on your wife and child,' then hand him a copy of his girlfriend's e-mail and walk away."

This is a tricky question, because the obvious ethical infringement here is by the lay minister, but it wasn't he who wrote for my advice - which, if he had asked, would be roughly the same as my reader's. It is my reader who is asking for advice, and the ethics of his situation are less straightforward.

On the one hand, no one appreciates a hypocrite, certainly not one who touts certain values publicly while flouting those same values privately. My reader's urge to set him straight is understandable.

On the other hand, this really isn't any of his business. It's only by coincidence that he happens to be aware of the lay minister's hypocrisy, and, if he were to intervene, the lay minister might reasonably feel that he was intruding.

On top of this are the ethics of the hiring process: Does the boyfriend's favor oblige him to hire the girlfriend? Or does his disapproval of their relationship mean that he shouldn't hire her under any circumstances?

Taking them in reverse order, my reader has no ethical obligation either to hire the girlfriend or not to hire her. The right thing for him to do is to hire the best person from the pool of 174 applications he received. If that's the girlfriend, then he shouldn't hold her relationship against her. If it's not the girlfriend, then he shouldn't feel that the boyfriend's favor left him with any obligation to favor the girlfriend.

As to the boyfriend, my reader has no obligation to confront him about his infidelity, and I advise him not to. He isn't aware of the details of the relationship between the lay minister and his girlfriend or between him and his wife. It's quite possible that a confrontation, especially if carried out publicly, would do more harm than good.

My reader might feel righteous in setting the lay minister straight, but he doesn't really know any of these people and would be doing the right thing in leaving well enough alone. Not being a Western Union representative, it's not his responsibility to deliver messages, from God or otherwise.

He isn't God, a marriage counselor or a disapproving uncle. He's a man trying to fill a job, and his only real obligation is to fill that job fairly.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

While I agree with your response, I would hope that the preacher's girlfriend was not only not the best candidate, but not even close enough to interview. Imagine when she says, during the interview, "John said to say hi to you." How difficult would it be to keep from saying "tell him I send regards to his wife" or "let him know I'll be sending a baby gift."

Anonymous said...

At what point do you draw the line and say where the evaluation of ethical dilemmas stop? Is it ethical to know that someone is cheating on their spouse and to not confront them? What about the long term damage that will come to the family as this man irrepairably tumbles down the path that causes others pain? Whats more ethical, to not appear as if you are 'intruding' or to help someone confront themselves with the reality of their actions?