Integrity is doing the right thing when you don’t have to — when no one else is looking or will ever know — when there will be no congratulations or recognition for having done so.
You’re heading home after a tough day at work, or you’re heading out to your favorite restaurant. You climb into the back of an Uber and settle down in your seat, grateful for a few minutes of quiet time and comfortable solitude.
What you don’t notice is the hidden camera on the dashboard. Naturally, you have no reason to imagine that you’re being live-streamed before an audience of thousands.
Creepy? Most of us would think so. But not the St. Louis driver who recorded hundreds of passengers on camera, some of them kissing, vomiting, or gossiping about relatives and coworkers. He was so pleased with his own videography that he even promoted the site where he posted his recordings on Twitter.
Apparently, it never occurred to him that some of his passengers might be less pleased, especially the young women who discovered on-site comments rating them on a 10-point attractiveness scale or making lewd suggestions. If it’s any consolation, both Uber and Lyft suspended the driver, while Twitch, which hosted the site, promptly shut it down.
“BUT IT’S NOT ILLEGAL!”
Astonishingly, no charges were pending. According to Missouri law, only one party must give consent to record an interaction so, technically, the driver did not break any laws. Which raises the following questions:
- Can we justify violating someone else’s privacy as long as we aren’t violating the letter of the law?
- How should we conduct ourselves in a society where we know others won’t respect our implicit right to privacy?
The conflation of legal with ethical has been fueled by the unchecked expansion of compliance regulations, which cost the IT industry alone an estimated $270 billion each year. And although the need for compliance laws is obvious, the downside of compliance legislation is dangerously easy to overlook.
Universal moral guidelines are essential for function and survival of any community or society, especially in our age of pluralism and moral relativism. Even so, the idea of legislating ethics erodes the very concept of what it means to be ethical – namely, the commitment to take the high road even when the law permits us to serve our own interests at the expense of others.
Respecting people’s personal and virtual space should be a given. What’s more, such amorphous “rights” don’t lend themselves to legislation, since time, culture, and circumstance preclude a universal, quantifiable definition of how much space a person can reasonably expect or demand.
NOT COMMON ENOUGH
Nevertheless, as the demarcation lines of personal respect and dignity dissolve, we can no longer count on common sense to guide public conduct. Inevitably, we end up continuously enacting new legislation in a perpetual game of whack-a-mole; in the process of trying to plug every hole, we create more and more loopholes with every new politically correct injunction.
Civility is the inevitable loser.
If we can’t fix the system, the logical alternative is to fix ourselves. We can start by bearing in mind that someone is always watching, whether the Uber driver in the rearview mirror, the cafe patron with a cellphone, or the Jumbotron camera at the ball game. The bottom line is simple: don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t want going viral on YouTube.
It’s not just a matter of protecting yourself. It’s an act of social responsibility: the better each of us behaves in public, the better all of us will behave in public. And that will be to everyone’s advantage.
King Solomon says, Curse not the king in your thoughts, nor the rich in your bedchamber; for a bird of the air shall carry your voice, and some winged creature will make the matter known.
Even in Solomon’s time, the walls had ears. In our time, the walls have eyes, and they capture images that last forever. So speak pleasantly and walk with dignity always. That way, when you’re caught on camera, instead of having to cringe and seek absolution for your behavior you can hold your head up high.
Originally published by Jewish World Review in 2018