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Why Do People Bend The Rules?

Today we talk about our personal ethics. How many times have we've known better but didn't do better? This just in, even good people do bad things. So let's talk about it. Three ethical principles I respect most are honesty, fairness, and integrity. My morals and values are a combination of my religion, upbringing, and life experiences. Our values and morals are distributed to us from our social environment. We all have morals and values; otherwise, we wouldn't use our freedom of speech to let it be known. We all have ethics, but what is our ability to hold to them?

As we go through life, we observe our social environment and pick up on social queues that teach us how to behave or teach us what actions to avoid. Upon deciding on our decisions, we take into consideration our ethics, values, and morals. When I make this decision, what will it say about me? What are the consequences attached to this decision? Am I making the right choice? Even with the help of reflection, we still opt to make the wrong choice. Social and situational factors play an important factor in swaying our decisions. It can influence our behaviors, some, but not all. When we choose to make poor choices, are we learning from them, or are we repeating them? The decisions we make can affect our personal and professional life.

One of the most significant factors we face today is unethical values. Most of us have either cheated, lied, or participated in some form of misconduct. The topic of why people bend the rules isn't meant to punish anyone, but to understand why we choose it. When we know the "why," we can then apply it to our own morals and values. Understanding how to overcome some unethical challenges will help you become a more effective leader, entrepreneur, educator, politician, or manager. As your business grows, maybe your job title grows, or perhaps your choosing personal growth. When we place our focus solely on obtaining profit, we lose sight of our ethical standards. Some topics are more significant than financial gain. We can reach our goals, collect our coins, work on our self-growth, stay hydrated and moisturized while motivating and influencing others. We can do it. Trust the process.

Let Em Know

When it comes to ethical behavior, here are two things we know. First, different scenarios can influence our morals and beliefs. We may choose to act a certain way in one situation but pass on another. We do not operate consistently, even when we strongly value morality. Secondly, when we look into our social environment, we learn from other individuals how to make bad choices. When we clock into work but check out asleep somewhere on the job, or that 30-minute lunch break that turned into an hour. I know, I know, your probably like if you don't get out my business. I am guilty of a couple power naps myself. Although we can see the people we observe in society as ethical, they also fail to resist acting upon dishonesty or even realize a moral problem exists. When placed in a situation where you may contemplate following through with a wrong decision, you weigh if the outcome comes with a reward and if your self-concept is still positive. We will lie when it is convenient to us, but not enough to the point where it alters the perception of being an honest, trustworthy person.

Contemplating breaking a rule is a reflection of observations we've made from our social and situational environments. When it comes to dishonesty, you must be a creative person. Think about it; the more creative you are, the easier it becomes to explain or justify why you behaved badly and made that decision. When deciding upon breaking the rules, you may think you'll feel guilty about making the decision. If you follow through and get away with it, you may find yourself unexpectedly in a good mood and even more innovative, contemplating if it's possible to get away with it again. Leaders expect people to act according to rules they lay out for others to abide by, but people have to want to follow the rules. You can train individuals on what behaviors are acceptable, but if they don't find the need or desire for the rules, they are likely to bend them.

If people don't want to go the extra mile, it's usually because they either don't care or they haven't been trained to do so. Some of the most prominent forms of bending the rules are bullying/ abuse, discrimination, and injustice. One of the majority of places people bend the rules in an unethical manner is within their working environments. Workplace bullying by supervisors is widespread and very common. I used to work for a high-end hotel before the pandemic. One night, I was working the front desk, and the owner of the hotel stopped by to have a chat with me. He said, "ya know, the only things I got along with when I was little was blacks and animals." Yes, you heard it right. I had to process it myself, yall. I repeated the comment to management for their input, and they mentioned there was nothing they could do because he was the owner.

The More You Know

In leadership, we have a term called deontology, and it's duty-based in meaning. It focuses on what people do and not the consequences of their actions. The problem with the owner of this hotel was his ignorance. He was so comfortable with approaching me and not only calling me a "thing" but placing me in the same sentence as an animal. Deontology focuses on the decision between right and wrong, which correlates back to morals and duties on the person. As a leader in the company, it was his duty to set the example for what his company represents. However, Hartman, DesJardins, and MacDonald point out that "knowing one's duties and fulfilling those duties are two separate issues" (Hartman et al., 2017, p. 502). He chose to bend the rules because of his title and position. Sometimes, people will perform unethically and feel bad about it. Often, social situations and timeline pressures can influence us to act in a way that contradicts our own ethical standards. Unfortunately, with the example I mentioned above, the owner was not pressured to make his comment; he was just ignorant.

When we observe our peers bending the rules and behaving unethically, we are more than likely to want to repeat the behavior we see. If they can do it and get away with it, what's the harm in me trying it myself. Peer influence plays a significant role in our decision-making. We will witness someone being unethical, but how often do we report the activity verse minding our business. We are more than likely going to resort to bending the rules if we feel we are at a disadvantage and don't want to be behind. Ethics is a part of who we are, and there are times we will use it, and other times it gets placed on the back burner. We have all heard the familiar phrase, "common sense isn't so common." Virtue is about having the right attitude and wanting to make the right decisions. Now be free into the world, young grasshopper! I can't wait to hear about all the good choices you have chosen to make with your new perspectives and outlooks.


Hartman, L. P. & DesJardins, J. R., & MacDonald C. (2017). Business ethics: Decision-making for personal integrity & social responsibility (4th ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Hill, L. A. (2006). Exercising Moral Courage: A Developmental Agenda. In D. L. Rhode (Ed.), Moral leadership. The theory and practice of power, judgement, and policy (pp. 267-289). John Wiley & Sons.

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