Are You Ethical? The Truth Isn't Exactly Clear

"In the teaching of ethics … we get students involved in communities where they have to listen to different perspectives and negotiate from different points of view," Satz says.

Cunningham says it might help to think about the frequency of one's excuses. On honesty tests he has studied, the most dishonest people tended to be evident, he said: "The more 'yes, buts,' they would offer, the more likely they would be prone to doing the wrong thing."

Ask yourself whether honesty is a trait you value above others or whether you'd be willing to sacrifice it to get ahead, and how much you see honesty as a virtue in others, Cunningham adds. In the example of getting too much change, he said, people who value honesty more highly "probably do recall instances where they were given too much money back and did something about it, whereas the dishonest people will see giving the money back as being a chump."

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