Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

What Is Your Price?

December 22, 1997

Ernie D'Bartolo resigns as the owner of the San Francisco 49ers pending an indictment on gambling fraud. Two former Arizona State basketball players plead guilty to point shaving. Marv Albert lied to NBC about his innocence in a much publicized assault incident. Frank Gifford was caught on videotape in an adulterous relationship.

National politics have been tainted with illegal campaign contributions and influence peddling. Our local news reports its fair share of fraud, embezzlement and white collar crime. Personal lives are shattered by adultery, lies and deceit.

Why do people go astray and lose their sense of moral direction?

- They lack a moral center or compass to guide them. Their guiding ethic is survival, then self-gratification. They are looking out for number one. Betrayal of a spouse starts with crossing over the line as to basic loyalty, then covering it up with treacherous lies. Whatever indulgent rewards their affair brought them are soon swallowed up ugly, immoral behavior. They lack a spiritual foundation for their behavior.

- When there is a shortcut to wealth, they take it. They are too lazy or impatient to go by the rules if an opportunity presents itself to get to their goal by quick and easy means. Often, they feel entitled to these benefits and rewards and deprived when they don't have them.

- Being very insecure, they need the approval of their peers. They recognize the wrongfulness of their actions but buckle under the influence of others. Their desire to be liked or belong overpowers their sense of right and wrong.

- They justify their unethical or illegal behavior in the name of their righteous cause. The ends justify the means. Much evil is done in the name of good. They can justify their acts of terrorism and the taking of innocent life: Muslim militants in Algeria and Egypt, and Unabomber defendant Theodore Kaczynski are cases in point.

- Arrogance and pride seduce them into putting themselves above the law. Government officials become distrustful of the general public and apply their own judgement based on their "superior" wisdom and judgment.

- They do immoral and illegal acts to derive justice for themselves. They want revenge, to even the score and extract fairness from an "unjust" employer or institution. Their anger takes them over the edge. They steal, misappropriate property and fudge on expenses to square accounts.

- It can be simple greed. Radio talk show host Bruce Williams likes to challenge listeners with questions like, "What is your price?" and, "How much will it take to compromise your integrity?" He thinks there is a point at which we all are tempted. People who supposedly have it all may not cheat on penny ante stakes but lose their moral compunction when the stakes are high enough.

Here are four points to consider in checking our moral compass.

1. What effect does my behavior have on others? Can we get away from our self-

centeredness, passions, goals and motives and learn to understand what others think and feel? Our benefit shouldn't come at the expense of another. If it does, it should fall well within widely accepted standards of fair play.

This standard is based on a fundamental respect for the rights of others. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This scriptural guideline alone, if applied, will take away the fuzziness and the grey areas from our choices.

2. Keep your word. Do what you say you will do. Overcommitment and underperformance leaves others holding the bag. Intentions are noble but results count. Take your commitments and responsibilities seriously. Others depend on you. Morality starts with honesty with self and others. White lies and rationalizations are slippery slopes to bigger lies and moral lapses.

3. Pay your debts. Gaining a benefit at someone else’s expense erodes character. This extends beyond monetary debts to other ways we benefit. We experience love and goodwill, and many other tangible benefits from our family, friends and community. The goodness that comes from them needs to be reciprocated. Getting something for nothing is wrong. When we discharge our financial and moral obligations, our self worth and net worth goes up.

4. Stand for principle even when it costs you something. Our hearts are warmed when we hear stories of people who make courageous choices despite the weight of public opinion or in the face of abusive power. What do we stand for? Will we stand for truth and our basic principles even when it costs us something?

These are the defining moments of our morality - when we choose to do the right thing despite adverse consequences. Can you think of a time in your life when you stood alone on the side of right and it cost you something? These actions are the times in our lives when we defined the price of our morality. To give in is tempting. The losses are real, yet we put an even higher value on our integrity.

To live by a sure moral compass will eventually bring us rewards and blessings. What goes around, comes around. The good we do will eventually catch up to us. For those who manipulate, lie, cheat, and steal their good fortune, a sad day lies ahead - a day of reckoning. Check the headlines. Our moral behavior forms our character and defines who we are.