Sunday, September 23, 2018

What ethical issues do you care about most?

What ethical issues do readers care about most?

Is it how to wrestle with coarse behavior by political leaders? Choosing not to lie when faced with seemingly attractive options?

From time to time, I check the online analytics to see which of the ethics columns I've written receive the most page hits. Given the current political environment, you'd think coarse behavior and choosing whether to lie might make the top viewed columns. But none crack the top of the list.

Granted the assessment is highly unscientific since it's impossible for me to know if a column that is called up is actually read, but by far the top three columns viewed are whether to accept a job offer made by someone who bad mouths colleagues, whether to stop a scavenger from taking returnable cans and bottles from your trash can, and whether companies have an obligation to try to actually help customers in need.

The three columns span 12 years in appearance, with the scavenger piece having run the longest ago (Jan. 29, 2006) and coming in second, the customer service column running five years ago (March 24, 2013) and coming in third, and the bad-mouthing job interviewer piece running two years ago (May 29, 2016) and receiving more than four times as many views as the third-place finisher.

What does this tell me about readers?

For one, it doesn't mean they don't care about other issues since those receive a good number of views as well. But the viewing habit does suggest that readers care the most about ethical issues, which are likely to affect them on a deeply personal basis. Almost all of us have had bad customer service experiences. Many of us have wondered if it was wrong to let scavengers pick from our trash rather than let the city reap any recycling benefits. And few of us have not had to wrestle with how to respond to someone bad mouthing someone we don't know.

Should we care more about political leaders lying to us? Certainly.

Should we be concerned with how honest we are with other people? Of course.

But day to day, we seem to lose sleep over what might seem like petty issues to some. It makes a certain amount of sense that we spend more time worrying about the pressing issues at hand that involve things others are doing to us. We can turn down the job offer from a bad-mouthing interviewer, change cellphone providers, or change the way we dispose of our trash.

We should care as much about our own behavior and whether we choose to lie, of course. And we should care as much about politicians behaving badly. But it's easy to set these issues aside when we need to deal with the trash habits of strangers.

The right thing, however, is to care as much about how we behave and the leaders we choose. Fortunately, it's not an either or situation and we are capable of doing both.

In the meantime, please continue to tell me about the ethical issues you care about most. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

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

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think people are very concerned about political behavior but the actions of the current administration are so egregious people are weary from hearing about them. That's why people did not read that column,