Ethics, The Amish, and What C.S. Lewis Has to Say About the Slippery Slope of Compromised Integrity

It feels like I can’t read the news anymore without being stared down by a headline about some professional concocting a nefarious scheme that brings ruin to clients, friends, family and colleagues. This newsletter will get you thinking about the little and big things that can compromise our better judgement.

There has been some interesting press lately in the New York Timesabout Monroe Beachy, an Amish man living in Ohio who carried out a Ponzi scheme targeting his very close knit community of fellow Amish and Mennonites that betrayed his neighbors’ trust and wiped out more than $16 million of their savings. Unlike other perpetrators, his community has not shunned him, pilloried him or run him out of town in his buggy. Instead, they reacted as their faith prescribes, with compassion and kindness—at least for the time being. You can link to the New York Times articles about Beachy here and here.

It’s a fascinating story—the forgiveness factor alone is worth a separate discussion—but it also got me thinking about the very slippery slope of ethics and integrity. I was musing on this when out of the blue my friend, David Kelso, sent me this brilliant piece by C.S. Lewis, known to most as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Here is C.S. Lewis’ very relevant take on corruption – I hope you enjoy it.

…to nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors.

Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still-just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf, or a prig-the hint will come.

It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play: something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”-and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure-something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face-that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face-turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected.

And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit.

It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude…but then again,

It may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school.

But you will be a scoundrel.

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.

Email and let me know what you think!