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Bruce WeinsteinFame & Fortune: Bruce Weinstein
Bankruptcy, re-gifting and other moral dilemmas

Enron. WorldCom. Martha Stewart.

Everywhere you look these days, it seems that ethics, in all matters financial, have gone up in the smoke of the $100 cigars that certain fat cats enjoy as they dream up new ways to raid our pension funds and claw their way to unspeakable fortunes.

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We mere mortals are following these bad examples every time we knowingly allow cashiers to give us too much change, or claim for ourselves that which someone else has misplaced.

Bruce Weinstein, known as "The Ethics Guy" to those who enjoy his insights on CNN's "Ask the Ethics Guy" and in his weekly Knight-Ridder/Tribune syndicated column, is hoping to beam a little ray of hope into the money-grubbing behavior that hangs like smog over America today.

In his latest book, "Life Principles: Feeling Good by Doing Good," Weinstein even has the audacity to suggest that living and acting ethically is not only the road to true personal happiness but is unfailingly the best business move as well.

Bankrate hooked up with The Ethics Guy to see where he could possibly have gotten such a radical idea.

Bankrate: Today, if we are to judge by the headlines, ethics and money rarely meet. But in "Life Principles," you make a strong case that doing the right thing is also the best business decision. How so?

Bruce Weinstein: The thing that businesses covet the most -- positive word-of-mouth -- is achieved and maintained only when a client trusts you to take their interests seriously. There's an organization called Word of Mouth Marketing Association, or WOMMA, whose goal is to help members cultivate this elusive, but invaluable, commodity. The head of WOMMA, Andy Sernovitz, recently told Variety magazine, "The idea of word-of-mouth is very Zen. You put the idea out there, let go, and if people like you and trust you, they'll spread the word." In other words, developing and maintaining trust both honors the integrity of the businessperson-client relationship and, in the long run, is good for business.

Bankrate: We've all found ourselves on the horns of an ethical dilemma when, say, the waiter left a bottle of expensive wine off our bill or the cashier gave us change for a 20 instead of a 10. Our wallet votes one way, our conscience another. Who should we listen to?

Weinstein: It comes down to how we answer a fundamental question: What kind of life do we want to live? We can take the low road and think primarily or exclusively about our own needs and desires. We can steal when no one is looking, cheat whenever we are able, lie when it is convenient, or break promises when something better comes along. We can resolve conflict with force rather than persuasion because, in the short run at least, it is always possible to conquer with violence, but peaceable solutions take time and effort.

Or we can reacquaint ourselves with five fundamental ethical principles, or what I call "life principles:"

  • Do no harm
  • Make things better
  • Respect others
  • Be fair
  • Be loving


Next: "... we ARE obligated to express our gratitude"
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