What the Paula Deen controversy can teach us about truth and consequences (Part 1 of 2)
“Here’s an interesting thought . . . instead of being honest in the court proceedings if she had said “I don’t remember” she would have perjured herself but not have suffered the fallout. Would it have been better that she broke the law? What impact will this have on future court proceedings after seeing what had happened with Deen? Are people going to be more inclined to lie rather than expose themselves to the fallout of long ago indiscretions and mistakes?”
When news of the Paula Deen controversy broke followed shortly thereafter by the Food Network’s announcement that they were dropping her, there was of course no shortage of opinions and commentary on both sides of the issue.
While I will leave coverage of the specific details at the heart of the furor to the news media, I could not help but wonder how many of us have been faced with a similar choice to the one that Deen faced. Specifically to tell the truth and suffer the consequences or, remain silent about a past indiscretion, confident (or at least hopeful) that no one would ever discover the truth. While the stakes or consequences can certainly play a part in influencing one’s willingness to be totally frank, the answer is both complex and simple.
It becomes complex in that no one really knows how they will respond during an actual moment of crisis when careers and one’s future is on the line. Ironically, and perhaps in the case of Paula Deen, these crucial life changing moments may not even be that obvious at the time they occur. After all, I wonder if in looking back, Deen might have responded differently to the deposition questions if given the opportunity. But that is a discussion for another day.
Conversely, the answer is also simple in that based on the foundation of your values, discretionary honesty may not be an option. Or to put it another way, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in all circumstances may be your single guiding principle.
I would like to think that for the most part, we all conduct ourselves in accordance with the latter. Certainly the following Personal Reflection from my new book The Future of You! Creating Your Enduring Brand speaks directly to this point.
A Moment of Personal Reflection . . .
While I was writing this chapter I took the time to think long and hard regarding what values mean to me, and their impact on not only my life but on those with whom I come in contact. As a result of this reflection, I was reminded of the following experience.
Several years ago, I was sitting at O’Hare Airport, waiting to board the plane that would take me to yet another speaking engagement. Lost within my thoughts of going through security, and hoping to make it to the hotel in time to respond to my many e-mails ̶ you know the usual things that occupy your mind when you travel ̶ I barely noticed the beautiful diamond bracelet at my feet. As soon as I bent over to pick it up, I could see that it was an exquisite piece of jewelry. So here I was, at a busy airport, cupping a very expensive item that someone had lost.
What to do?
Turn it in to the guest services counter was the first thought that came to mind. Then I thought, What happens if I turn it in and it isn’t claimed? Or worse yet, What if someone gives into temptation and keeps it?
I called four friends on my cell phone asking what they would do. Each said that I should keep it, providing their reasons for why this was the best course of action. However, my gut kept telling me that I had to base my ultimate decision on my personal values. So I wrote a note and placed both it and the bracelet in an envelope and handed it to the attendant at the American Airlines counter, informing her of what I had found, and expressing my hope that the rightful owner would reclaim it.
Several weeks passed before I found myself again in the American Airlines airport lounge.
To my surprise, when I arrived and showed the person at the guest counter my ticket, she paused, then reached behind the counter to retrieve my envelope. She informed me that the bracelet had not been reclaimed, and that my decision to turn it in in the first place had moved the lunge’s staff to the point that they felt I deserved to keep the bracelet.
When I made the decision to turn in the lost bracelet, I never expected to receive a reward, nor did I anticipate that it would be returned to me. That being said, the real moral of the story is not so much my actions ̶ because I felt that what I did was the right thing to do. Nor were the circumstances by which I came to possess something of such beauty the ultimate message that I would like for you to take away from this experience. For me, the real moral of the story was the effect that my actions or value decision had on the lounge’s staff.
The fact that the staff were moved by my decision to turn in the bracelet and adamant that I be the final recipient speaks to the true power of our values, which is the impact our values have on others.
What impact are your value decisions having on those with whom you come in contact in your daily life? This is important, because this is an essential part of your personal brand!
Now I know that returning a lost bracelet and responding to a deposition question are not necessarily one in the same thing. That being said, I cannot help but believe that if you have integrity in terms of how you deal with the small things in life, you will also have integrity when dealing with life’s major situations.
So…here are some thought provoking questions to ask yourself;
· What’s the price you are prepared to pay for honouring your values?
· How do you define “honesty”? When is it appropriate to tell a white lie?
· How do you weigh the repercussions for living by your values?
· Last, are you managing your Brand so that you don’t have to worry about potential setbacks?
In Part 2 we will delve into greater detail what the Paula Deen controversy can teach us about truth and consequences. Is it appropriate to tell a white lie?