The following excerpt comes from the Tribal Leaders' Institute course, "Introduction to Ethics on American Indian Reservations"...
In her book "The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse", Marianne Jennings discusses
Myth #1: There Is Nothing To It
Those who fall victim to this misconception believe that
changing ethical performance is easy. They are seriously mistaken.
Acting normal can be a tough task, as you've probably discovered when
you tried to do the right thing in the face of peer pressure or were
punished for telling the truth. At times, you will be called upon to
put aside your self-interest to meet the needs of others, to stand
alone, and to endure criticism. You could risk losing your job because
you "aren't a team player" or because you have to bring organizational
wrongdoing to the attention of outside authorities. (Johnson, 2007)
I can think of examples on two different reservations. Both of these
individuals tried to take a stand against unethical behavior, enforce
policies and procedures. In one instance, a tribal judge stood up
against attempts by the tribal council to interfere in court cases. In
the other, a school administrator tried to enforce policies and
procedures. Teachers who came late or were unprepared for their
classes were reprimanded. Students who skipped class and swore at
their teachers were warned and then suspended. Both of these people
ended up losing their jobs. There were no accusations against them of
being incompetent or unethical. Simply, people went to the tribal
council or others over their heads and complained that they had lost a
court case, been fired or their child been suspended. When the time
came for renewal of these two individuals' contracts, they were out of
I had not worked on that course in over a year and had not given this story much thought until I came across it today. The first time I read it, it was merely a story.
Well, a few weeks ago, I resigned as a board president. There had been no accusations of me being incompetent or unethical. Simply, a number of people wanted positions for which I did not believe they were qualified and I refused to appoint them to those positions or give them promotions I truly did not believe they deserved. When people threatened and attempted to bully me, I refused to back down. Our versions of "Joe the Tribal Worker" and "John the Board Member" made deals with enough people to have me removed as president. Rather than agree to work with them, I resigned.
So, is the moral of the story here that ethics doesn't pay? No, I think that the moral is, as the title of that section of the Introductory course states it is a myth that there is "nothing to" ethical change.
I had a great many well-wishers call or email and tell me what a great job I had done as board president and how disgusted they were with the actions of "Joe" and his comrades. I also had several call to "cheer me up". While I appreciated their efforts, the truth is, I did not need any cheering up at all.
I know that I acted as ethically as I could throughout the situation. Some people suggested that I could have compromised more and kept the position. This is true and it was my decision NOT to compromise. Those people who argued that I did the wrong thing, that I let down the organization by refusing to compromise my principles so I could stay "in power", I respectfully disagree. I think those kinds of arguments, although they may be truly well-meaning, are how people justify unethical behavior.
It is like Erich says in another part of the course,
"Lying and stealing is wrong. It isn't that complicated."
Promoting people who are unqualified is wrong. Putting people in positions they did not earn over other people who DO have the qualifications is wrong.
My choice was to be president of a board the majority of whose members were dishonest, self-serving and cowardly or to walk away.
So I walked.
And it feels great.