Everyday Ethics: Why do we misbehave?

What gets in the way of happiness and success? Lots of things. Our ethical foundations and practices are a great place to start.

We misbehave for three reasons: altruism, delicious temptations, and vulnerabilities. 


  • “Just helping”
  • Cutting corners
  • Turning a blind eye
  • Hiding the truth for or from others
  • Giving overly generous or false feedback 

Delicious Temptations

George May’s Big Four and Gurri’s Fifth

  • Greed
  • Speed
  • Laziness
  • Haziness
  • Craziness

Internal and external factors contribute to our moral strengths and weaknesses. Resilience is created when a workplace culture faces ethical dilemmas and handles them effectively. No one expects perfection. The challenge is to thrive in the face of change and disruption. The task is to reaffirm and update values and processes. Vulnerabilities include:

Vulnerabilities and Resilience

Internal Factors

  • Feeling States: Anger, hunger, desperation, frustration, fatigue
  • Entitlement: “I deserve it” “The rules don’t apply to me”
  • Culture: Internalized family, neighborhood, workplace cultures
  • Mind Games: We can convince ourselves of many things that aren’t so
  • Bitterness: “They owe me”, “It’s not fair”

External Factors

  • Pressure: Social, emotional, financial; being helpful, needed, or important
  • Opportunity: Isolation, privacy, independence
  • Culture:  External culture of acceptance in family, community, department, workplace
  • Financial: Financial distress is a terrible pressure, desperation can challenge our values and commitments

Misbehaving is a part of life. It can be fun, horrifying, and educational. With compassion, curiosity, and a bit of humor, we can learn to bring out the best in everyone in the worst of times.

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