Everyday Ethics - The Disclosure Rule


By: Jim Mitchell, CLU®, ChFC®

This is another in a series of columns about guides to what I’ve been calling “Everyday Ethics.” So far we have dis­cussed the Golden Rule and the “What if Everybody Did?” Rule. This column con­cerns the Disclosure Rule.

The Disclosure Rule asks if you would be comfortable with all your family and friends knowing about the action you propose to take. Would you be comfort­able reading about what you are about to do on the front page of The Wall Street Journal or the local paper, or seeing it on Facebook? Would you be proud to have your proposed actions revealed on 60 Minutes? Would you want your family to see that show?

Consider the example of perfor­mance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Mark McGwire led all of baseball with a then-record 70 home runs during the 1998 season. After having to deal for a dozen years with a lot of rumor and innu­endo, in 2010 McGwire admitted that he had used these drugs. “It’s very emotion­al. It’s telling family members, friends and…..former teammates ….that I’m coming clean and being honest,” he said. “It’s the first time they’ve ever heard me talk about this. I hid it from everybody.” I believe that, had McGwire considered the Disclosure Rule, he would not have used performance-enhancing drugs and saved himself a lot of personal anguish and embarrassment. And he still would have had a very successful career—one that he could have been proud of.

Personally, I frequently used a variation of the Disclosure Rule. For many years I kept a picture on my desk of my son as a wide-eyed four-year-old. Every day I vowed never to do anything that would make him less than proud of me. That picture of him as a four-year-old stayed on my desk until he went off to college, and even for a while after that.

The Disclosure Rule can work well with groups, too. Sometimes groups can get caught up in “group-think” and start charging toward an idea that seems ex­pedient but might be questionable ethi­cally. If you are concerned that the group you are with is about to make an ethically challenged decision, it can be very help­ful to ask how we all would feel reading about our proposed actions on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. It takes just one brave person to ask this ques­tion. I have seen groups stop in their tracks and realize they were heading down a wrong path.

The reason that “Everyday Ethics” rules such as the Disclosure Rule are so use­ful is that almost all of the decisions we face every day have an ethical dimension. Many of our decisions are resource allo­cation decisions, even if the only resource being allocated is our own time. Before you make such decisions, think about us­ing the rules of “Everyday Ethics.” I truly believe you will find them quite helpful.