Defiant Honesty

When was the last time you were faced with a situation in which being honest – and following your own conscience about something – was at odds with your external security?

And when I say “security” I mean anything from the really dramatic (your actual life or the life of someone you care about) all the way down to something like your job.

What did you do?

A Story

Someone – let’s call her Mimi – worked for a company run by someone whose primary focus in life was earning at any cost. The sanity of employees was of no concern. Ethical behavior toward other companies was out of the question. Anything resembling the word “integrity” was laughable.

Mimi was the manager of a product line offered by this company. It was a small product line with a lot of potential. One day, the owner of an external company came to Mimi seeking to do a deal that would allow him to white label one of Mimi’s products into his own.

Unbeknownst to this guy, Mimi had already begun development on a product that would directly compete with this guy’s product. She wasn’t concerned, however, because the market was big enough to sustain the presence of both products, with plenty left over for growth. And the white labeling of the existing product to this guy’s company wasn’t a problem, because he needed the information delivered by the product, and it’s better that Mimi get paid for providing it, rather than someone else.

So Mimi is pleased by the deal she cuts and goes to tell her Boss about the new competitor, as well as the white labeling. Mimi also tells him that she’s formulating a way of telling the guy about the product she’s developing, since it doesn’t feel right to her to not say anything and let him find out when the product releases.

Boss doesn’t get it. He tells Mimi that she is absolutely NOT to tell the guy about the competing product. Further, he instructs her to gather as much information as possible on the guy’s product to ensure that Mimi’s new product will be as good as or better than the one the guy is launching. Even further, he expresses a dubiousness about “helping” the guy access the information created by the product Mimi has just white labeled to the guy.

Mimi is frustrated and unsure.

She really doesn’t know what to do. Her heart and her conscience tell her to absolutely tell the guy about the new product, but Boss has more or less indicated that her job is on the line if she does.

For awhile, Mimi stays silent. She has multiple conversations with the guy, setting up the implementation of the white label agreement, but never mentions the new product.

And this does not feel good to her.

She struggles with the ethics of it all.

Yes, she knows her boss is a dunderhead. And dishonest. And probably some other d-words.

Mimi’s Choice

After some few days of mulling things over, Mimi decided to tell the guy about the competing product she is developing. She knew that if Boss found out, at the very least she’ll get berated. At worst, she’ll be fired.

It seemed worth the risk to keep some semblance of her integrity intact.

The Guy’s Response

The guy heard Mimi out, heard Mimi reassure him that so long as she’s in charge, he would be able to white label the data she’s providing him.

She could hear the smile.

“The market’s big enough for both of us,” he said. “And maybe where our products are different, we can help one another out, while also helping our respective customers get what they actually need to do business better.”

She was relieved. He had a similar ethical structure to her own. They talked about Karma and the value of treating people the way you want others to treat you.

While she still fears Boss finding out what she did – telling the competition about an emerging product – she feels she did the right thing … by her own conscience, by the business relationship she’s built with the guy, and even for the fledgling product she’s building.

The Point

It’s easy to talk about things like integrity and ethics in the abstract. It’s a much different matter when it’s the real world and your job (and in extreme cases, your life) depend upon your decisions.

Don’t think I’m being all Pollyanna about Mimi’s story. She could still lose her job, and she’s the only money-earner in her household. The prospect of losing her job is a big, huge deal. But I’m aware that Mimi stands by her decision all the same.

In the same situation, would I? Would you?

4 Responses to Defiant Honesty
  1. Mike Wilson
    January 28, 2010 | 14:49

    Wrong action.

    The right action is to stick to her guns with the boss, not go behind his back out of a sense of righteousness.

    Now a crystal clear ethical violation is in play.

    (I’ve both lost jobs and been thanked for my honesty.)

    At the end of the day you’ve got to be able to look in the mirror and say you did the right thing without having to shrink from the truth.
    .-= Mike Wilson´s last blog ..Just wondering… =-.

  2. Gina
    January 28, 2010 | 15:00

    Messy stuff, integrity is. But Mimi is probably well aware that even if she did what she had to do to protect her job, her overall well-being would suffer as she reinforced the gap between who she is and what’s she’s doing. And that never ends well.
    .-= Gina´s last blog ..Letters to a Young Therapist =-.

  3. christy
    January 29, 2010 | 11:26



    I wondered the same thing (about keeping the info from her boss) and questioned Mimi about it. Her answer made sense to me. Perhaps I should have tried to include it in the story.

    That said, my reaction wasn’t nearly so strong as yours. I find it interesting that you seem to be saying that Mimi should be measured by the standard you set. Perhaps that’s not what you meant to say, but that’s what I read.

    I find that life is often a series of trade-offs and none of us get it right all of the time. (And some of us don’t get it right even a majority of the time!)

    Still, thanks for your comment.

  4. christy
    January 29, 2010 | 11:29

    Hi Gina! Yes, you have a point … and yes, Mimi is aware of it too. She knows this but is having difficulty getting past some of her own stuck to find the way forward.

    This was a big step for her. I’m hoping for her sake that it is but the first of many.

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