When Does Wrong Become Wrong?

How really wrong is wrong?

Recently, Madoff made off with as much as $50 billion in investor funds placed in his trust. It was a Ponzi scheme that began years ago.

I wonder how small the first act of deceit was. Was it $10,000 or was it a million dollars? And is it more wrong to steal from a non-profit foundation than from an offshore hedge fund?

The NYT is reporting that the former chairwoman of the Sanlu Group, one of China’s largest dairy producers, pleaded guilty to selling fake milk powder. Ms. Tian Wenhua, a former Sanlu executive said she knew in May Sanlu was selling milk contaminated with melamine. She did not report this when she learned of it. The melamine scandal wasn’t made public until August.

According to the article, Wenhua’s delay helped lead to the deaths of 6 children and 300,000 illnesses. Who added the first tablespoon of melamine? Was it an amount that small or did someone dump gallons or even a ton as their first act of wrong?

Is it more wrong to steal a $1,000,000 than $10,000? Do the zeros add up in the math of morality as they do in financial math? Is the first stolen billion dollars not quite as bad as the third or 43 billion dollars?

Is it more wrong if too much melamine kills six children instead of merely causing severe illness? Is causing illness in 3 children as bad as causing illness in 300,000?

How really wrong is wrong? Is Madoff’s wrong less if an attorney convinces a jury that he should do no time or receive a reduced sentence?

One cannot watch the news without being overwhelmed by the lack of moral integrity at work in the world of business. For too many individuals, corporations and government agencies the end (the “almighty dollar”) seems to justify any means.

Can you imagine how thoroughly frustrated ancient Diogenes would be after a random walk down Wall Street?

But before we point our fingers too firmly, how moral is Main Street? Who fully trusts any local business? Not many of us. And it’s not because we don’t want to trust. We’ve learned after we’ve been burned.

Somewhere along the path of capitalism, it became “wrong” to pass up the chance to take advantage of another, even if it required being dishonest in a transaction. Many act as if they believe it’s more wrong to be moral than to miss a deal.

How really wrong is wrong? Wrong is wrong.

Here’s what I think …

Morality begins in the heart and in the home. Then it walks out into your neighborhood and morality interacts with your friends. From heart and home, morality goes to Main Street and then, perhaps, to Wall Street. Wherever you find it, morality starts in the heart.

Moral integrity dictates that stealing $1 is as wrong as stealing $50 billion. It stipulates that sickening one child is a wrong as harming 300,000. Wrong is wrong.

It’s a difficult standard, but wrong is wrong.

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