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Is It Easier To Be Forgiven Than Be Given Permission?

A friend of mine sent the following to me and I thought it was so good I had to share… so I am taking the day off… here it is….. 

by Stevie Ray (Improv Company)

I have been aware of the phrase, “It is easier to be forgiven than to be given permission” ever since I was a young man, but the first time I saw put into practice was from a colleague in the entertainment industry. She wanted to add some special effects to a show, but wasn’t sure the owner of the theatre would agree to the extra cost. Her plan? Go ahead and buy the stuff anyway, hoping he would either not notice or let it slide once the deed was done. As wrong as this was, she was quick with justifications. “The old man doesn’t know what he’s doing anyway. He should just trust me on this.” “For as much work as I put in around here, this little extra is nothing.” “It’s not like this place doesn’t make big bucks, they can afford it.” Whether these statements were true doesn’t matter. None of them were what she really meant, which was “I want what I want. If I can’t get it honestly, I’ll cheat.” The hypocrisy is she has children to whom she purports to teach the Golden Rule. She lives a life of Do as I say, not as I do.

Personally, I’ve turned 180 degrees on the old easier to be forgiven philosophy. I must admit that, as a young man I was impressed with her moxie. I considered her a woman of backbone, a no-nonsense get-things-doner. Perhaps it was me getting older, or (more likely) having run a business myself, that has changed my tune. Now I see her as one of the most destructive types of people with which to associate. And I certainly wouldn’t keep someone like that in my employ. Forget the cost of keeping up with her dishonesty, there is no way to keep up with the childish attitude that would be spread throughout the company.

America has always had a love-hate relationship with those who step out of bounds. Movies romanticize criminals and, even though we teach our kids that honesty is the best policy, we excuse the behavior of these people because their actions only seem to affect big nameless, faceless companies or governments. John Dillinger was a folk hero because he stole from banks. The guys in the movie Ocean’s Eleven were cool because they heisted a casino. What’s the harm? Banks are insured. Casinos have plenty of money. Who is really getting hurt? How about the kids who see this and think that is the way you get what you want in this world? How about the employers who have to factor employee theft as part of their annual expense? What must countries like Japan think of us, where a person who drops a wallet on the subway can be assured that it will be returned with cash untouched.

The common man or woman who simply gets up every day, goes to work, and follows the rules is, for some reason, characterized as a chump in this country. Rather than touting this individual’s work ethic, sense of decency, and moral center, he or she is demeaned as a doormat; someone who never took the big chance or got the big score. Even more absurd is that some companies have convinced themselves that, not only is it acceptable to engage in whatever behavior will get the sale, win the bid, or increase the invoice, it is necessary in order to remain competitive. Obviously, the thousands of companies that make a profit honestly prove this wrong.

In the early 1900’s, the famous Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget wrote about moral development in children. Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg expounded on Piaget’s work in the 50’s and 60’s. They were able to break down moral decision making into simple stages (and I paraphrase). In early stages of moral development, a child will simply do what he is told because he doesn’t know any better. He is programmed to respond to authority, so there is no considering the pro or con of the command. Later, the child does the right thing in order to gain approval of the parent. The smile, hug, or “Good girl” from mom or dad is everything. Later, when the urge to do my own thing becomes stronger, punishment is necessary. At this stage, instead of doing the right thing in order to gain approval, the child does the right thing to avoid punishment.

The final stage of moral development is the one that is also the most elusive. We do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. There isn’t anyone guiding us toward the right decision. No one may ever know about our actions, so we may not receive accolades. The powers-that-be will never be privy to the act, so punishment isn’t likely. It is just the right thing to do.

In an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show Andy has scolded his son Opie because Opie stretched the truth in trying to sell his bike to another boy. Andy told Opie that is wasn’t right to lie, even if the lie wasn’t going to actually cause harm to the boy buying the bike. Later, when Andy is trying to sell his house to another couple he glosses over many of the defects in his house. Later, in a father-and-son conversation, Opie wants to know why it is okay for adults to lie, but kids can’t. At first, Andy tries to describe why it’s different for adults. He tries to explain the concept of buyer beware, and that adults understand that the other party is going to sugar-coat things during a transaction. No matter how long Andy tap dances, Opie keeps bringing the conversation down to earth with but that’s lying, isn’t it? Andy eventually has to own up to the fact that, if he is going to demand honesty of his son, he must expect it from himself. Opie keeps his bike and Andy keeps his house. Neither needs to ask for forgiveness.

Once you get past the cute story, you see what is happening in America. Employees doing only as much work as it takes to not get fired. Managers shifting blame from themselves to the staff. Executives using companies as their personal piggy bank. Workers walking out the door with whatever will fit in their pockets. CEO’s walking out with whatever will fit in their portfolio. And when someone gets cheated it becomes justification to cheat the next guy. I wonder what these people talk about with their kids over the dinner table. I wonder what would happen if we all had to explain to our children exactly where we got all of our stuff. When our children say, “He punched me first,” we say “I don’t care. You don’t hit someone.” How quickly that philosophy goes out the door when we justify shorting someone else because the world didn’t treat us right.

See I told you it was good…. now we really do need some coffee….

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