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Do not follow directions from others you believe to be improper or unethical.

“It is not the right thing to do, and it is not a defense to a criminal act unless you are being forced to take the wrongful action. If a CEO says to employees, ‘We’re going to take advantage of….’ someone (in other words, cheat) then you cannot simply go along without exposing yourself (as well as your corporation) to prosecution. It is also not a defense that others are doing it, or even that everybody else is doing it. Instead, that claim may invite the prosecutor to make you the example for others.”

This lesson is especially difficult to learn if you are a people-pleaser. The source of this orientation often lies in childhood. It is closely related to the fear of rejection. This is the fear that those I most admire, respect and like will not like me in return if I do not do what they ask of me. The deeper my identity is tied to what other people think of me, the greater the chance I will fall into the trap of following others’ commands even if I know they are unethical.

Life has a way of presenting opportunities to face our fears and grow beyond them. I recall an event that occurred to me in my first job after college. I was working as a salesman for a food cannery. Even though I was the youngest on the sales staff, I had my own territory and an expense account. When I came home from a sales trip (my area of responsibility was Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia), I would carefully itemize what I had spent and then submit it to the company treasurer. One day I was in my office when there was a knock on the door. Standing before me was the assistant sales manager. He was a man I looked up to and liked. He said to me in a firm voice, “You are making us look bad. You are too honest.” It seems he and some of the other salesmen were padding their expense accounts. He wanted me to do the same. At that moment I knew I faced a serious dilemma – stay true to my principles and lose some friends at the company or go along with his demand and lose my self-respect. Somehow I found the courage to stand my ground. It was a self-defining moment for me.

When we successfully face our fears, we grow in integrity. Writer Suzanne Nofke points out that as a personal quality integrity in any degree demands the honest living out of whatever integrity has already been attained. This dynamic leads to deeper and deeper integrity. Practicing this virtue to the best of our ability is, after all, the best antidote to the pitfalls of Lesson No. 7.

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