As Honest As We Like to Think We Are

So…if no one knew when you lied, would you do it?  Would you lie to save money?  Would you lie to save your client money?  Would it matter the amount of money?

I have often taught negotiation ethics using Richard Shell’s division of behavior–the idealists, the pragmatists and the poker-players.  The poker players assume that everyone who negotiates views it as a game–we all know that bluffing and puffing are part of the system–caveat emptor.  The pragmatists think that lying is generally unwise–you’ll be found out, it’s not worth it, etc.  The final school is that idealists–lying is wrong and you shouldn’t do it.

It is wonderful when you can find a real-life example of idealistic telling-the-truth and so I connect here to a lovely story about J.P. Hayes, a golf player.  He played a nonconforming ball for a single hole of the second stage of the PGA Qualifying Tournament He realized it more than a day after the “violation,” called it on himself, and  disqualified himself from the tournament.  This has, according to Yahoo, some severe career-altering effects down the line.

Now, the easy move here would be to either do nothing or blame the caddy. Hayes rose above both those temptations, putting all the blame on himself and asserting that everybody else on the PGA in his shoes would have done the exact same thing. We’ll never know, but let’s hope so.

Also, Hayes already has more than $7 million in career earnings, so it’s not like he’d consigned himself to another year working the counter at the Quik Stop. But still, knowing you’re taking yourself out of the running for a year of career stability and wealth takes some serious situational ethics.

But, as J.P. puts it, at least he can sleep at night.  What would you have done?

22 thoughts on “As Honest As We Like to Think We Are”

  1. This story exemplifies the role of integrity in the game of golf. Unlike other competitive sports where a referee, as a presumptively “neutral” party, can be ridiculed and blamed for “costing” one side the game, golf allows players to shoulder responsibility for following the rules. This obvious observation highlights what members of the golf world take great pride in: a unique code of conduct. Sacrificing personal and professional gain to uphold the integrity of the game should be applauded, regardless of whether you are enthusiastic or apathetic about golf…

  2. I think there may be a difference in what one would do if it were just oneself who was going to suffer some sort of negative repercussion versus what one would do with the understanding that one’s decisions could affect their client. I think “lying” in negotiation comes in many forms, and the ethics rules even seem to condone some amount of lying, which they choose to liken to “puffery.” Model Rule 4.1 warns against claiming something is your client’s bottom line when in fact it is not, and Stare v. Tate holds that when there is a misrepresentation or fraud or mutual mistake, parties have obligation to tell you. But how much of this is really going on? Isn’t it more likely that attorneys are exaggerating their clients’ bottom lines to set the bounds of a zone of possible agreement to amounts more favorable to their clients? And isn’t it true that attorneys may notice mistakes in calculations but choose not to bring them up? Are these people really going to get found out? Probably not. That said, I do consider myself a pretty honest person, and while I would feel guilty in the golf scenario mentioned above, I think I would feel a lot less guilty if I was that person’s advocate. I think it would be much easier to try to rationalize my actions by convincing myself I was just protecting my client’s interests.

  3. Honestly, if in Hayes’ position, I wouldn’t have done anything and kept my mouth shut. And to be even more honest, I’m not even ashamed I feel that way! I think a lot of my ease with this lie comes from the nature of the situation- it’s just a sport, not a life altering situation and it was a minor cheat in the sport, not exactly an overdose on steroids. Then there’s the fact that he didn’t explicitly lie, he just realized an error and didn’t say anything.

    But I think my apathy toward honesty in this situation really lies in the fact that it was an accident; Hayes didn’t intend to cheat. And that makes me wonder, how often do we rationalize lies and dishonesty because it was an accident? I think most white lies and lies by omission (small scale dishonesty) stem from mistakes- you forgot you were meeting a friend for dinner, so you tell her there was an emergency so her feelings aren’t hurt.

    Following the golf story, I sometimes play tennis with my boyfriend who is very good at the sport and competed nationally. Every so often, he will say a ball is in, when it’s actually out (or assume so) and I won’t correct him. I rationalize this to myself because he is typically 3 sets head of me and I’m usually always at love-something. I guess the moral of the story is, you shouldn’t play sports with me!

    But I guess when you’re at a professional athletic level, as Hayes is, and the sport becomes your occupation, expectations change. Just as you would expect anyone in their job to be honest in their work, you would expect that of an athlete making a living off of their sport. I wonder if Hayes would be so honest in a friendly game of golf with some buddies?

  4. I’d like to think that I’d also call myself out. In outing himself and taking the requisite punishment, J.P. has endeared himself to anyone advocating truth-telling. This kind of honestly stands in stark contrast to the behavior to those athletes trying to benefit their careers by using performance-enhancing substances.

    I think his actions were a smart career move. While not disclosing would have allowed him to continue uninterrupted in his successful career, he may have effectively preempted the tremendous career damage a later discovery could do. In that instance he may not only lose a year of play, but also his reputation and future career prospects. Instead, his actions now benefit his reputation. He’ll be known as the honest guy, and has become an example of model behavior.

  5. If I were Hayes’ position, I would have told the truth. Keeping that type of a secret would fester inside of of me until I ended up telling everyone the truth anyway. The knowledge that I cheated would make me second guess every person’s tone of voice, comments, and sincerity. I would wonder if they really knew the truth, and if they did know, when would they tell the world. Will they tell the truth at a family gathering for all my loved ones to hear, or will they wait until I make them angry? Who would they tell first, and how would I respond to their reactions? I would keep thinking how the news that I cheated would affect the way that my family, friends, and colleagues think of me. This information would certaintly taint all of my past successes and achievements , even if they were completely honest. Just knowing that the truth could come out in the future would take all the joy out of any future accomplishments. Rather than celebrating my future moments of glory, I would be focusing on how I what I could have done differently on that one day, with that one ball, with that one lie. It is not worth it all the headaches, tell the truth.

  6. Honesty seems to be a rare commodity these days. At the very least it is quite refreshing that J.P. Hayes called himself on it. It would seem that his assertion “that everybody on the PGA in his shoes would’ve done the exact same thing” might be a noble effort to raise the standards of the game. I don’t agree however, that everybody on the PGA would react the same way or do the same thing. I do think that the decision to be so honest is a bit easier when you are already a somewhat established player and can afford to take the hit financially.

    I think most of us would like to think we would do the same thing and at the very least hope we would do the same thing. It’s hard to say until you are in that person’s shoes. It would seem to me that if the PGA was interested in raising the level of the game and in fostering such honesty in the future they would take a special approach with J.P. and provide for understanding consequences. What those would be someone more familiar with professional golf would have to answer.

    I’d like to think I have such honesty in myself and would rise to such an occasion to be so unequivocally honest but speculation is just speculation until life offers us an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Here’s hoping-

  7. To follow up, J.P. Hayes has already received several sponsors invitations to tournaments, at least partially based on the notoriety he’s gotten for his honesty.

    It seems to me that he could very easily have justified to himself that using the wrong ball for one shot didn’t even help him and the two stroke penalty he had already taken was more than enough penalty. I really think his honesty was impressive.

  8. I would also have done what Hayes did in his same position. However, I really think the money he has already earned would play a big part in the decision at least for myself. If the facts where changed slightly and Hayes had minimal lifetime earnings and was just trying to pay the rent I would be interested to see his decision. In that situation I would probably not say anything because the value of the increased earnings would be too much to say something and risk losing the ability to provide for my family.

  9. There were at least two related incentives for Hayes not to have come forward with the truth. First, he probably wants the glory and recognition associated with success as a professional golfer. Second, he likely wants to make money. As to the first incentive, I would find that any sense of accomplishment would be diminished by the thought that I did not achieve that accomplishment fairly. Accordingly, I would not be tempted to hide the truth simply to get recognition for winning. On the other hand, depending on my financial situation, the prospect of taking home prize money could be very enticing. Nevertheless, I think that I would come forward with the truth. I would not outright disqualify myself, but I would explain that I accidently used a nonconforming ball during the hole in question, and I would let the authorities decide how to handle the situation. I would plead for a remedy other than disqualification, but if no alternative were available, I would accept it for what it is. Indeed, one’s personal integrity is one of the few things in life that one has complete control of, and although some might perceive me as naïve, I would be very reluctant to allow my desire for wealth to dictate my moral decisions.

  10. I definitely agree with you, Anna. There is a difference when it comes to lying for your own personal gain and lying for the gain of your clients. Non-lawyers would typically think that having such a distinction just goes further to show how underhanded lawyers could be, but from the law student/lawyer perspective, we see that the difference is almost a must.

    I doubt I could justify my own lying for my own benefit, but it becomes much easier to justify when you are doing it for someone else’s gain, and even easier when you are justifying someone else’s lying instead of your own. We are trained to advocate for our clients, and to always be understanding of their wants and needs. We are not necessarily trained to do that without ever stretching the truth. We all agree that flat out lying is “wrong”, but at the end of the day, when it comes to the work we do for clients, it’s really easy to think that getting them what they want, or more importantly getting them what you think they legally deserve, is more important than always being 100% honest.

    That all being said, what a nice story about JP Hayes. In a time where most athletes are far from role models, it’s nice to see a man step up and be honest, even though it had negative impacts for him.

  11. I think that ethical issues depend on the surrounding circumstances. If at the time I played the game, I thought I was complying with the rules, and only later realized that I had broken a rule I probably would not have said anything. Shouldn’t it be the PGA’s job to make sure players are playing by the rules?

    If this same ethical situation arose in my work as an attorney, however, I would act differently because it is my duty as a legal professional to act ethically in my practice. A very good example of this type of ethical dilemma recently presented itself to an attorney I know. The opposing attorney drafted a Marital Settlement Agreement and sent it to Attorney “A” to review. Attorney “A” found a mistake in the MSA – the opposing attorney had mistakenly attributed an asset to Attorney “A’s” client, when it was already agreed to be given to the other party. If Attorney “A” did not correct the mistake it would be unethical practice, but if her client found out that she pointed this mistake out the client would be pretty upset. Attorney “A” decided to call the opposing attorney and point out the mistake, and asked the opposing attorney to sent her a fax “catching” her mistake so that it looked like the opposing attorney caught her own mistake and Attorney A’s client would not be upset that she lost out on gaining an additional asset.

  12. The outset of this post asks a pretty broad question- if no one knew when you lied, would you do it? To me, the problem with that question itself is that someone always knows when you lie- you. In Professor O’Meara’s Law Governing Lawyers class, he mentioned a quote by Oscar Wilde: “The thing about sin is not what we do, but who we become.” To me, that’s the problem with lying- it makes you a liar. It makes you someone who cannot be trusted. And you’re always going to know that about yourself. It might be that in the case of Mr. Hayes, the rule really didn’t make a difference. It might be that this “non-conforming” ball actually made the course more difficult to play. In sports competition, I think the rules are designed to keep the playing field even. It makes the playing of the sport more fun when the competition is fair. After all, assuming the ball Hayes used made the game more difficult for him, would you really be able to enjoy winning a tournament against him, just barely? How worthy would you deem your own accomplishment if you knew someone else had had to work twice as hard as you to get there?

    In the legal context, though, this question takes on a different light. You’re acting in the best interest of someone else- your client. So another question posed is “Is it ever in someone’s best interest to lie?” That brings up the idea that Neha discussed earlier- if you’re lying to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, is lying really such a bad thing? Personally, I think lying is always a bad thing. I think you should never do it. But I also understand that on a blog that everyone can read, we’re all going to project our “Public Morality”. We’re going to say what we know we’re supposed to say. Lying is wrong, and we shouldn’t do it. And I also understand that just because something is “morally wrong” under your personal code of honor doesn’t mean you’re never going to do it.

    So, is lying wrong? Of course. Do I lie? Absolutely. Can I rationalize every lie I’ve ever told and explain to you why, under the circumstances, it wasn’t really such a bad thing to do? Well, if I could remember every lie I ever told, probably. So would I lie in Hayes’ shoes? Probably not. I’d probably tell everyone I should be disqualified. But I wouldn’t be doing it because I thought it was right. I’d be doing it because I hate golf and would prefer to just go home. Would I lie on behalf of a client? No. But the truth of the matter is, I’d be pretty likely to see just how far I could stretch the truth. So the question I still can’t answer is this: How dishonest does something have to be before it becomes a lie?

  13. Conversations and debates about honesty and ethics are very interesting, whether in the sports world or the legal field, ethics is a very hot topic. This story got a lot of press, and I think the main reason was because he was acting honestly. Does that mean that honesty is no longer the norm, when someone actually tells the truth it is not only newsworthy, but almost heroic. Do we currently live in a society where telling the truth, when we didn’t necessarily have to, is something to be applauded for? I think my mother would disagree, as I was always taught, “honesty is the best policy.” All that being said, would I have said something if I was in Haye’s position? Probably not. In Shell’s three divisions I would consider myself somewhat of a poker-player, aren’t we suppose to be cunning and clever, sometimes withholding the truth when it gets us something we want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Haye’s would definitely be somewhat of an idealistic, agreeing with my mother that honesty is the best policy. Since this story got so much press, it just made me realize we are living in a world of poker-players, and when some idealist comes out and does the right thing, we are all in awe.

  14. I absolutely would have done the same. Really, how could he have played in subsequent matches knowing that he didn’t belong and that he didn’t really win? How could he have taken the place of a truly deserving competitor?

    While in some ways I am an idealist, in others I am a pragmatist. Cheating and lying always catch up with people – it’s just a matter of time. Look at Marian Jones, stripped of gold medals and world records. Look at the “Fab Five” from the University of Michigan Men’s Basketball’s program, which made it to the NCAA Finals in 1992 and 1993. Ten years later, they were forced to take down their Final Four banners and vacate 114 wins. The NCAA also took the team’s name off the record books for 1992 and 1993. Why? They lied and cheated by accepting over $600,000 from a booster. Really, it all comes back to you in the end…

  15. I absolutely would have done the same. Really, how could he have played in subsequent matches knowing that he didn’t belong and that he didn’t really win? How could he have taken the place of a truly deserving competitor?

    While in some ways I am an idealist, in others I am a pragmatist. Cheating and lying always catch up with people – it’s just a matter of time. Look at Marian Jones, stripped of gold medals and world records. Look at the “Fab Five” from the University of Michigan Men’s Basketball program, which made it to the NCAA Finals in 1992 and 1993. Ten years later, they were forced to take down their Final Four banners and vacate 114 wins. The NCAA also took the team’s name off the record books for 1992 and 1993. Why? They lied and cheated by accepting over $600,000 from a booster. Really, it all comes back to you in the end…

  16. The Hayes situation brings to mind the distinction made in Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3 (Candor Toward The Tribunal) between one’s ordinary duty to a tribunal to merely tell the truth in an adversary proceeding, 3.3.(a)-(c) (with the arguable exception that controlling directly adverse legal authority must be disclosed in 3.3(a)(2), which may be appropriate in context since mistakes of law are subject to review de novo), and the higher duty present in ex parte proceedings to tell the whole truth, including the disclosure of adverse material facts, 3.3(d).

    In most sports, there is an umpire or referee before whom each side is permitted to argue their case on a call and violations are primarily the job of these officials to identify, just like they are in ordinary adversary proceeding. Indeed, in some sports, even a request for reconsideration based upon a television replay is permitted, just as it might be in a trial court adversary proceeding.

    In contrast, in golf, the player is the tribunal, in effect, because the physically dispersed nature of golf makes it impracticable to rely upon umpires to spot violations. As such, golfers, like Hayes, appropriately hold themselves to a higher standard that calls upon them to affirmatively disclose adverse material facts, than football players, basketball players, baseball players and the like, where that duty is not present, since it is practical to rely on umpires or referees to spot violations in those situations.

  17. Mr. Hayes’ actions reflect his character, and character is not the end result of one major life choice, but is the reflection of a series of daily choices. I would not be surprised to learn that Mr. Hayes has a habit of being an honest man, or that he is honest in his other dealings. I believe that we are all faced with situations that force us to choose between honesty and integrity or dishonesty and deceit on a daily basis. Those choices we make form the person we become. Like Liz’s choice to tell the cashier to charge her for the proper mushrooms, the opportunities greet us more frequently than we may realize, but they help us to form the habit of honesty (or dishonesty).

    As an example, I was at Wal-Mart back when my two kids were toddlers (no small feat with a one- and three-year old). After shopping for a half-hour with crabby children, I checked out my purchases. When I got to the car, and after strapping both kids into their carseats, I noticed that under my daughter’s jacket was a 4-pack of lightbulbs that I hadn’t paid for. Did I unstrap both kids, load them in the cart, and return to the store to pay for my 79-cent oversight? Are you kidding me? Actually, I went later that day after my husband got home from work and paid for the “stolen” bulbs. And my conscience bothered me for waiting the three hours to do so.

    I have been faced with other situations that are similar to the one I just conveyed, as have we all. Based on those choices, I hope I can predict that I would make the same choice as Mr. Hayes, if faced with the same scenario (which would only be possible if a fairy golfmother endowed me with some golfing ability).

    In his post, Andrew poses the question of whether it would have been wrong for Mr. Hayes to keep his mouth shut and then on the back end of winning donate 20% to charity. My answer would be yes, of course it would be wrong. In that situation, willful cheating cannot be negated by a later good deed. The thing that makes Mr. Hayes’ action so compelling is that he made a choice that cost him something. Giving away 20% of something that shouldn’t have been his in the first place hardly seems like a cost to him. Rather, it would have been a rationalization of cheating. It seems so easy to twist the cheating into something noble.

    As an alternative question to the one above, I wonder what I would have advised Mr. Hayes to do if he had come to me seeking legal advice after the violation but before he disqualified himself? Rule 1.6 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct seems to point toward advising him to disqualify himself, and I think I would do that anyway, without a Model Rule to direct me.

  18. I agree that people try to rationalize cheating, which is wrong because cheating takes away someone else’s fair gain. I think that anyone who respects the individual rights of others would agree.
    When I was in graduate school I met a lot of people from different parts of the world. The graduate program had an honor code, which was not as intuitive to everyone as it is to people who grow up in a society where cheating is not accepted. The willingness in society to excuse cheating seemed to coincide with a lack of importance paid to individual rights.
    Cheating was a way to make the most effective use of scarce resources. Instead of running up transaction costs in a fair competition, a person who uses short-cuts and avoids getting caught takes the winnings. The fact that some other individual, who we may feel to be more deserving because of her honesty, was cheated was not as relevant if individual rights did not matter.
    I believe that societal norms dictate a large part of what cheating is and whether cheating is ethical. The emphasis on individual rights creates a norm where lying is not ethical. The rights (and opportunities to use them) afforded to individuals requires that depriving another individual of her right to her fair share with a lie be abhorred. In light of our rights as individuals, we simply have very little excuse to lie.

  19. I agree with Nick – it would be interesting to see what would have happened if he didn’t have 7 million in the bank. Would he have lied? Maybe not, as he seems pretty ethical, but I am sure that several people in his position would have kept their mouths shut, whether or not they needed the money.

    I personally would not have lied. I would have felt terrible, and probably lost a lot of sleep over the lie. What if someone else knew and was just waiting to call me out? I could not bear the stress of such a big lie.

    Although I think lying is needed for social cohesion, (can you imagine a world in which people were brutally honest, all the time? Comments like “Oh God, what did you do to your hair?” or “Did you get dressed in the dark?” would be plentiful. No one would have any friends!) I don’t think it is appropriate in some situations, this one included. Although it is far too common, people should not resort to lying for personal game in their career.

  20. In response, I would say that I fall into the pragmatist view above. While in an ideal world, lying is wrong, and we should always tell the truth, one of the main motivations for telling the truth is not that it is the inherently “right” thing to do, but that lying generally backfires. It is generally safer not to lie.

    In addition, people generally respect others for having the courage to admit the truth. While lying is definitely a better course to take when asked for your personal opinion about someone’s hair, in general, it is safer to tell the truth in almost all other situations. I think that being seen as a “liar” is still stigmatized in our society, even if it is about relatively insignificant or personal matters. Ironically, many people who tell lies expect others not to, and are very surprised to learn when they are lied to.

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