Doing the Right Thing – Advice from Daniel
February 14, 2019
Embezzling. Selling harmful products. Polluting the air and water. There are plenty of opportunities for unethical behavior in the business world. While some business people will be in a position to make decisions leading to these kinds of actions, most of us are faced with opportunities to engage in much less nefarious conduct. These include stretching the truth in claims about our products to customers, “fudging” on an expense account, or representing a forecast or other report in a way that is not entirely accurate. Dealing with these situations becomes particularly tricky when a boss or other person in authority over us directs us to do something that is against our ethical standards. Often these come in the form of “Just tell the customer…” or “Just fix the report so that…” Helpfully, others have faced this very type of challenge a few years ago, in about 605 B.C.
Management Training in Babylon
The book of Daniel (chapters 1, 3, & 6) tells a story of an ancient management development program, albeit an involuntary one. Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were taken into captivity and chosen for special service to the king. As part of their training, they were given choice food and drink. This was a nice upside to the downside of being held captive, except for the fact that they were forbidden by Jewish law to eat and drink the items they were given. Daniel and his friends were in one of those “Just…” situations. Read chapter 1 in Daniel and you’ll find that the way Daniel handled the situation provides a great set of steps for today’s business people to handle similar ethical challenges.
The first thing these men did was to decide what they would not do; “…Daniel resolved not to defile himself.” (1:8) We must do the same, deciding (ideally in advance) what we will and will not do as a businessperson. An important next step is to recognize the concerns of the one asking for the improper behavior, in this case the official in charge who told Daniel that the king would “have my head” if he gave Daniel and his colleagues special treatment. Often, our bosses are under pressure themselves and are looking for a solution, albeit one that we consider out of line. Rather than being belligerent in his righteousness, Daniel respectfully addressed the official (1:12). Likewise, instead of
storming into our boss’s office with our demands, we should respectfully address him or her with our concerns.
One of the most important things Daniel did was to offer an alternative plan, proposing that Daniel and his friends be allowed to eat their “legal” food and drink in a sort of test. God blessed them by giving them favor with the official and by giving them the end result the king was looking for: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (1:20) We should ask God to give us a good alternative to propose to our bosses and should not be shy about asking God to give us favor with those in authority and a good result from our alternative plan.
Always a happy ending?
In Daniel 1, we see a situation where believers took an ethical stand and were rewarded for doing so. But we have no guarantees that this will always be the outcome. Read ahead to Daniel 3 and you’ll see a situation where once again, these four were asked to do something against their beliefs. But this time, they were faced with a dire outcome and had to take a courageous position: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (3:17-18). And in Chapter 6, Daniel was tossed into a den of lions after refusing to compromise.
In some cases, we may be called upon to take a stand and may do so at the risk of being ostracized or even released from our jobs. But just as God was with these brave young men from centuries ago, He will be with us in the challenges we face in our careers. So, when you are asked to go against your ethical standards, remember and be inspired and instructed by the courage and creativity of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.