When Good People Do Bad Things


The title of the workshop was “When Good People Do Bad Things”.  It was a three hour workshop on ethics.  Regardless of the title, I was intent on attending the workshop because I needed the training hours on ethics to maintain my license as a social worker.  I know you’re thinking, “Three hours of training is not nearly enough”.  Perhaps you’re right.  At any rate, the title of the workshop caught my attention.  Why do good people do bad things?

One of the examples shared during the workshop was the revelation that came to light that a long term staff member of a facility caring for children repeatedly demeaned and cussed children.  How’s that for helping youngsters build self-esteem and feel nurtured and loved?  In the venue where I work, that individual would not be afforded the privilege of continued employment.  In the example given, the employee had been a long term and faithful employee.  Besides that, all of the adults knew Mr. “So-and-so” was like that.  You know the excuse, “That’s just the way he is” and they opted to look over it.  After all, he really did value his work.

Is there ever a reason to maintain employment for anyone whose persona and approach is caustic, judgmental and demeaning to others?  “That’s just the way he is” is hardly justification for maintaining the status quo.  How often do employees in an organization approach the workday with the belief that personnel policies and core values ascribed by the organization don’t really apply to them?  After all, their job or position with the agency is secure.  They’ve been around for a long time.  Should tenure be justification or entitlement to keep a person within an organization just because folks are afraid of them?  I hardly think so, but in reality it happens because folks have a tendency to look the other way.

During the workshop, we were given an assignment to break into large groups and discuss answers to different questions.  Our group discussed a simple question.  “How do you know an ethical organization from one that is not?”  This isn’t rocket-science.  The answer really shouldn’t be that difficult.  We were an ingenious group.  We came up with things like the absence of financial transparency, the absence of policies or procedures, staff turnover and disgruntled employees, licensing violations, etc.  The list of equally “fresh and innovative” ideas continued to surface. At one point in the discussion,  I suggested the presence of nepotism might be an indicator.  A friend of mine in the group mumbled, “No really – he then pointed (for my eyes only) to someone else in the group.  Wouldn’t you know it? I have the innate ability to be offensive even when I’m trying to be helpful. I had no idea who the lady was he pointed to, but she obviously had family connections, so to speak.

As luck would have it, when it was time to report to the entire group, yours truly was targeted to articulate our findings.  There was nothing wrong with the common sense list of items we came up with, but who wants to hear what they already know?  My response may have been a little unethical because in my reporting to the larger group, I took a few liberties to expand on the things in my head that I had not verbalized.

I suggested sometimes it is easy to know when an organization has ethical issues.  For example, if the administrator has a summer home, winter home and takes 12 months of vacation annually, it is fairly apparent that something isn’t quite right.  I don’t know many child care administrators that drive an automobile that cost six figures and have a track record of spending most of their time at somewhere other than work, but it could happen and has happened.  If “uncle Joe”, “aunt Barbara”, and cousin “Whoever” serves on the board of directors and also work at the facility, “Hello Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

I guess one of the downsides to having been in the child welfare industry for 45 years is that I’ve seen it all.  For the most part, folks who gravitate to this type of work do so because they have a heart for kids from hard places and they want to make a difference.  Some of the most incredible people I’ve ever known work in this industry.  At the same time, some folk’s motivation isn’t as pure as the winter snow. I sometimes say to a limited audience that knows I’m mostly joking, that three type of people  gravitate to residential child care: religious fanatics, sexual predators and “hard to find”.  Our task is somehow having the skillset and knowledge needed to ensure that we only select people in the last category to employee.

An agency is only as strong as its weakest link.  The excuse “that’s just the way he is” should not and must not ever serve as a basis to allow mistreatment of anyone.  To do otherwise, places one’s organization in the category of unethical.

Hey, I’m in Houston and need to get into the flow of traffic or I’ll be late to my conference.

All My Best!



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