Determining Your Ethics IQ

Aug. 8, 2005
The results of the "What’s Your Ethics IQ?" quiz in the August 2005's "Ethics: Why it's important" article.

The follwing results correspond to the "What’s Your Ethics IQ?" sidebar in the August 2005's "Ethics: Why it's important" article.

Note the point values assigned to the choices you made in the What would you do quiz, add them up, and then find your score below.


If you scored...

You demonstrate a tendency to take the easy path, which is not necessarily the best path. Ethics is about taking the interests of others at least as seriously as we take our own interests, but a score in this range suggests a preference for your own needs and wants. Ironically, in the long run you are likely to thwart your own goals by acting selfishly. Taking the high road isn't just the right thing to do; it is beneficial for us. The reason to be ethical isn't personal gain, but it is a nice side effect.

Sometimes you choose to do the right thing, and sometimes you don't. It's understandable that you occasionally lack the courage to take the high road - no one is perfect but ethics demands consistency. It is not OK to be a saint at work and a sinner at home. If we aspire to be the best person we can be, it is in our own interests, as we shall see, to strive for doing the right thing in all of our interactions with people.

You are to be commended for taking the high road time and time again, even when it would be easier in the short run to do otherwise. Whether you make the right choices because you were raised to act responsibly, or because you have learned through experience that everyone wins when we do the right thing, or because of some other reason, you are a virtuous person. May others be fortunate enough to learn from the example you set.

Best Responses to Ethics IQ Quiz

1. After leaving a grocery store, you notice a six-pack of soda sitting in an otherwise empty shopping cart in the parking lot. Would you:
A) Leave the soda where it is
B) Take it and keep it
C) Bring it back to the store

"A" leaves open the possibility that someone else will take what doesn't belong to them. "B" is stealing. "C" allows the rightful owner to claim the soda, which he or she almost certainly will after noticing that the item is missing. By going a little bit out of your way, another person will get back what rightfully belongs to them. Perhaps someone else will do the same for you one day.
Score: A=2, B=1, C=3

2. One evening while watching TV you discover that you are now receiving a premium cable channel, which you have not ordered. After doing some research, you learn that the cable company has made a mistake; it is unwittingly providing the service without charging you for it. Would you:
A) Enjoy the service without notifying the cable company
B) Contact the cable company and tell them of the error
C) Wait a few weeks to see if you really watch the station that often; if not, call the cable company and have them remove it
Score: A=1, B=3, C=2

3. You are at a party and one of your friends has become intoxicated. As she prepares to leave the party and drive home, you tell her that she has had too much to drink and that you will take her home. She tells you rudely to mind your own business. Would you:
A) Do as she says
B) Take her keys away from her and arrange for a way for her to get home
C) Call the police when she gets on the road and tell them that an inebriated person is on the loose

As we saw in our discussion of Life Principle #1, it is not enough to "do no harm"; we must also take care to prevent harm to others, particularly harm that is reasonably foreseeable. We would violate this moral obligation if we chose "A." Choice "C" appears to fulfill our obligation to respect the right of our friend to make her own decision, but that right is not an absolute one, since none of us has the right to cause injury to other people. Only "B" will prevent foreseeable harm to other people, even if it requires restricting another person's freedom. By drinking too much, the woman in question has temporarily waived her right to do as she pleases, for she is not entitled to turn her car into a killing machine. If the fallout is a loss of the friendship, one can justifiably say, "Goodbye, and good riddance!"
Score: A=1, B=3, C=2

4. One of your co-workers is having some difficulties at home and the quality of his work is suffering. Would you: A) Say nothing and cover for him.
B) Talk to him and offer some suggestions about how he can resolve his personal dilemma.
C) Talk to the supervisor about the situation.

While A is the easiest choice, it isn't the best choice. If you're doing two jobs your performance will suffer. Choice C is the best response as it makes the company aware of the problem and takes the burden off you.
Score: A=1, B=2, C=3

5. Your friend asks you if you like the new dress she has just purchased. You think it looks horrible but don't want to hurt her feelings. Would you:
A) Tell her the truth
B) Find something about the dress that you do like and mention only that (e.g., "Rayon is so easy to care for!")
C) Use language that is accurate but deceptive ("It's incredible! I've never seen anything like it!")

Life Principle #3, Respect others, seems to point in the direction of "A," since being honest is one of the ways that we apply this principle in everyday life, but it is safe to assume that our friend truly wants our opinion? That might be the case if the two of you were at a store trying out various outfits, but she has already bought the dress. Chances are what she wants is not your honest evaluation but validation that she made a good decision - according to her own tastes and preferences. "C" is technically correct but misleading. "B" allows you to avoid getting into the habit of being deceptive; after all, the more we deceive others, even for benevolent reasons, the easier it becomes to do so. "B" also validates your friend's choice and makes her feel good about the purchase without being dishonest. It is the best option of the three.
Score: A=1, B=3, C=2

6. Your boss wants you to overlook a problem so the aircraft can meet its flight schedule. Would you:
A) Do what he asks if it's not serious.
B) Uphold the responsibility placed in you by the Federal Aviation Administration.
C) See if your boss will put his name on the line.

Pressure to cut corners is prevalent these days but you shouldn't compromise your professional integrity, Choice B is the best response.
Score: A=1, B=3, C=2

7. You and your beloved are having dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate your anniversary. When the check arrives, you notice that the waiter forgot to include the expensive bottle of wine you had. Would you:
A) Pay the bill without notifying the waiter of the omission but leave a larger tip than you had planned
B) Pay the bill as is and leave a normal tip
C) Tell the waiter about the error

Your lucky accident will be at the waiter's expense, since she will have to pay for that bottle of wine out of her own pocket. How is that fair? You quaffed the wine, so you should pay for it. That is the only reasonable application of Life Principle #4 to this dilemma, which ultimately is a psychological, not an ethical, one. It may feel tempting to keep the error to yourself, but there is no moral justification for doing so. Yes, the waiter made a mistake, but that doesn't mean it should cost her dearly. Pay the right amount, and the good night's rest you get tonight won't be entirely due to that lovely pinot noir you enjoyed.
Score: A=2, B=1, C=3

8. One evening while watching TV you discover that you are now receiving a premium cable channel that you have not ordered. After doing some research, you learn that the cable company is mistakenly providing the service without charging you for it. Would you:
A) Do nothing but enjoy the free service
B) Contact the cable company and notify them of the error
C) Wait a few weeks to see if you really watch the station that often; if not, call the cable company and have them remove it

Gomer Pyle's grandmother would consider "A" to be "ill-gotten gains," since you're getting something for nothing. "C" tries to have it both ways and fails on both accounts, since we do not have the moral authority to decide whether the act amounts to theft. That call is for the cable company to make, since they license the product to us. It is their property until we pay for it. By taking the high road and choosing "B," we may very well find that the cable company allows us to continue to receive the channel at no cost - a reward for being honest. But if they don't, it would be unfortunate but not unfair, since we are not owed freebies.
Score: A=1, B=3, C=2

9. While driving on the highway, a driver behind you speeds in front of you and cuts you off as you're preparing to change lanes. You are startled and scared by his actions. Your children are in the back seat. Would you:
A) Roll down your window and yell at the driver
B) Call the police on your cell phone while you're driving to notify them of the incident
C) Stay calm and do what is necessary to protect yourself and your kids

"A" highlights the difference between the questions, "What would you do?" and "What should you do?" As we've discussed before, the former is a psychological or sociological question; the latter is an ethical one. Many of us find it difficult on occasion to resist road rage. The fact that many, or even most, people express hostility in these situations doesn't justify doing so, however. Life Principle #1, Do no harm, requires that we place the safety of our children above whatever desire we may have to pull a Dirty Harry on the jerks we encounter on the road. "B" appears to fulfill our duty to prevent harm to others and to bring the joker to justice, but using our cell phone while driving increases our chances of causing an accident and is thus self-defeating. If we really want to take "Do no harm" seriously, as we should, "C" is the way to go.
Score: A=1, B=2, C=3

10. A celebrity, once one of your favorites, was recently convicted of a serious offense and sentenced to prison. How would you feel?
A) Glad that the person has gotten what s/he deserved
B) Sad that someone you used to admire gave in to less-than-noble impulses
C) Numb

It is not enough to do the right thing, or even do the right thing for the right reason: being the best we can be means feeling the right way too. Imagine someone who took great glee in seeing a child get hurt. We would rightly say of such an individual that he or she has poor character. Ethics isn't just about appropriate conduct; it's also about developing the right emotional responses (and yes, it is possible to do so).

The German word "Schadenfreude" refers to the common tendency to feel good about another's misfortune. But the fact that some, or even many people react this way doesn't mean that it is a noble human trait. It is, in fact, just the opposite, since such a disposition violates Life Principle #1, Do no harm, in two ways: its mean-spiritedness is an indecent way to treat another person, and in giving in to our baser instincts, we tarnish our own souls. "A" is thus an inappropriate response. So is "C," because an occasion such as this calls for some kind of feeling.

A good person is disposed to react in the way suggested by "B." Even if the behavior of the celebrity in question was not merely unfortunate but truly unfair, it does not follow that we too should take the low road. We may be so tempted, but everyone wins in the long run when we appeal to the best part of ourselves both in how we act and how we react. (Of course, one should also be concerned about the victims of the celebrity's actions.)

The goal in becoming a decent human being ultimately means not only refusing to feel joy in another's sorrow (or feeling bad about another's success), but developing the right feelings so that we are moved to act appropriately.
Score: A=1, B=3, C=2