Last Friday my manager called me into his office and told me the company was putting me on a project for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
My political views are generally libertarian, so I believe that this government agency shouldn’t exist.
This put me in a bit of an ethical bind, do I just accept that it’s part of my job that I will have to work with clients I am fundamentally against? Or do I refuse and accept the consequences.
Luckily for me, the circumstances changes and it turned out I didn’t have to work on the project. However, I thought I’d detail some of the moral reasoning and criteria I used to determine whether or not I should work on the project.
Would I be a hypocrite?
I’ve been fairly vocal to friends about my political beliefs (though I’m not a political activist by any means), and I’ve certainly espoused the evils of the CFPB specifically.
How could I tell anyone they should or should not do or believe something if I work with an agency that I told them shouldn’t exist? It would be like someone that said, “tobacco companies are evil, and they should be banned” and then took a job with a tobacco company.
Is my obligation to keep my job (and therefore support myself)?
There is a good chance that if I refused to work with this client, I could get fired. Probably not immediately, but my company would certainly question whether it makes sense for me to work there if I’m not willing to do the work they assign me.
The Stoic in me says I should be true to my values regardless of the potentially negative consequences.
However, there are also ancient teachings in the Abrahamic religions about the importance of being self-sufficient and not becoming a financial burden on others. These warnings are generally intended to ensure people don’t withdraw from the world completely and use religion as a justification to become a beggar.
Is this political belief worth losing my job over? Is it really that strong of a belief?
Do I have ulterior motives by refusing this assignment?
It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of my current job. I realize that it’s my fault, and that it’s something I need to work on, but still, the desire to quit tomorrow and damn the consequences is appealing. It’s even better if I get fired and can justify it by saying I was fired for defending some noble political principle.
Also, the type of work they wanted me to do seemed particularly boring. Am I just using ethical principles to get out of doing boring work?
Am I consistent in my political beliefs with my other projects?
Libertarian principles say that government should be reduced so that it only provides essential services (defense, justice, protection of rights, etc.). I can perform some mental gymnastics to justify working on my other projects, but I’m very aware that I’m performing mental gymnastics.
For example, I work on a project for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). A true libertarian would probably say we shouldn’t be sending money overseas. It’s not our business. On the other hand, I could say USAID is in the foreign policy business, which is a subset of defense, which would make it ok.
Why am I being less rigorous, ethically, with USAID than with CFPB? Should I even be working in government consulting if I think most government agencies should be disbanded?
Are my political beliefs bullshit?
Libertarianism is a modern and mostly American political philosophy that has much to say about the role of federal government, but not much to say about how people should conduct their personal lives. They only say that people should be free to pursue their own individual desires so long as they don’t infringe upon the rights of others.
Libertarian philosophy is the most viable (I believe) political philosophy for the United States, but shouldn’t I follow a more rigorous and more personal moral and ethical system to guide my own behavior?
Should my libertarian views dictate any of my actions outside the voting booth? Or should I take Jesus’ advice, which says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
What did I do?
I brought up my concerns with my manager (after I was already told I wouldn’t be on the project) and he was polite and respected my views. He said he would try to keep me off this project in the future, but that it may not be possible, and there may indeed be a risk of being fired (he used more diplomatic terms) if I refused the work.
I appreciated his honesty, and he even admitted that he often disagreed in principle with the work the clients are doing.
However, he did the work anyway, justifying that it is the “professional” thing to do.
I did get a little irritated with him at that point, as I don’t think there is any ethical code of “the professional” in a general sense. It sounds like it means putting aside your personal values so you don’t suffer career consequences. At best, it is amoral. At worst, it is a moral failure.
Fortunately, I’ve been practicing humility this month and I was able to take a step back and realize that these types of decisions are complex, and that just because I feel like my manger’s moral reasoning is faulty, it doesn’t mean he is a bad person. It doesn’t mean I’m superior to him. Indeed, he is probably a better person than me overall; he has many admirable qualities.
I lucked out for now in that I didn’t have to make any difficult decisions, but if it comes up in the future, I’ll have do further research and reflection.