But I Was Only Borrowing Money! An Ethical Dilemma

What causes people to make unethical choices when they know it is wrong? Ask someone who has stolen money – did you ever think of yourself as a thief? Their answer is always a resounding – No! Yet, their unethical choices tend to lead them to disastrous consequences.

As a Motivational Speaker, no matter how much I share my story, people continue making unethical choices. What really saddens me is to watch people I know enter into ethical dilemmas after all I experienced and all that I share. I certainly do not withhold sharing my story, believing that telling my story helps other people.

There are those who learn by observation – the ones my story helps the most. Then there are those who insist on learning lessons by experience regardless of what they hear. Those people are the ones who live in denial who already have rationalized their behaviors.

My friend shared with me a story of a phone call she received from her niece. She was crying and upset. She felt frightened like the world was crashing in around her. She felt like she needed help – she needed a way out.

My friend listened and finally the story was shared. Apparently a few months ago there arose in her family medical issues. They felt they had nowhere to turn. Her husband managed an account in North Dakota. They decided to “borrow” money to help them cover the medical issues. They believed they had a way of paying it back without anyone knowing. Over a period of months they paid back all but $2000. The account could soon be audited. The niece and her husband were terrified of the outcome. There were many sleepless nights and lots of planning on how to replenish the balance – and how to cover up the fraud.

My friend’s heart ached. She knew from my experiences what the possible outcome could be. Her niece knew as well. They could be exposed, lose their reputation, be charged with embezzlement, and even go to jail. It seemed the house of cards was crashing down. My friend was frightened for them and the possible outcome. Her niece had so much integrity and kindness in her. She was shy and quiet. She hated to draw attention to herself. What happened?

This woman had grown up in an environment where lack and limitation was practiced. There was a period of time that she and her mother were homeless. Her mother worked hard to take care of her. This woman as a child, felt ashamed of where she lived, what she wore. She was envious of what other people had in their lives. She didn’t have a father and money was a huge problem. Although she knew her mother did her best and that her mother loved her dearly, she wanted a different for herself and her children.

They have raised their children to have everything they didn’t have. Both parents came from broken homes. Her husband was given everything he could want by his parents, but love. The woman was given all the love she wanted but not the things. They worked hard to have a home in the suburbs, meaningful jobs, name brand clothing for the children. Maintaining the illusion of a happy life was getting quite expensive. There was no savings account. They went more and more into debt. When the medical situation arose, they felt there were no more options and they “borrowed” the money – rather stole the money under the guise of “borrowing.”

Whenever someone enters into making an unethical choice, typically there are three things that occur. First, there is a need. In this case, this young family had a medical necessity and no immediate money to cover the expense. Second, there is opportunity. They had access to the money. Third, there is rationalization. This family had to take care of a medical need, the money was there, and they would pay it back.

They were good people. But then, in reality, most “white-collar criminals” would call themselves good people as would the people they associated with. All the ingredients were in line for them to make an unethical choice and in their mind they were only “borrowing” – a typical rationalized cover for theft.

Now they are faced with another ethical dilemma. They want to turn the finances over to someone else recognizing that they made a mistake. Can they do that without the new person reviewing the account records? Will the leadership demand a financial accounting? Do they hold onto the books so no one will find out? Do they turn them over confessing their situation and hope for mercy? What if there is no mercy? Will there be jail time? What about the reputation?

There is nothing easy about the consequences of making unethical choices especially if you are a person of integrity. In this woman’s case, she had a lot of integrity. She moved away from her authentic self. She did not honor who she is as a person. This just didn’t happen overnight. It happened over time. Once we move away from self-integrity, we are living with illusion and open to attracting more illusions to our lives.

As of this writing, the outcome is yet to be determined. What choice they make today will have an effect on their lives and the lives of their family forever. All I know for sure, is that if they make an ethical choice today, they will reap the benefits in the future. If they make an unethical choice today, eventually it will collapse around them.

My greatest lesson in life came from sitting in Federal Prison 13 years ago. I, too, created an illusory life and my house of cards crashed down around me. I made the exact choices my friend’s niece except mine involved $250,000. Just the amount of the money is different. I had a need, I had the opportunity and I rationalized it. Eventually it caught up to me.

It was the worst and the best time of my life. It was the worst because I lost everything: my job, my family, my reputation, my things. It was the best because I became integrous to myself for the first time in my life. I learned invaluable lessons which I share today as a Motivational Speaker whenever possible. We can all make mistakes. We are not our mistakes. We are more than what we seem…especially when we make choices that create a positive outcome.

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