But what piqued my interest was a TV commentator who said President-elect Obama and Chief of Staff designate Rahm Emanuel will have "problems" since they supported Blagojevich's gubernatorial candidacy despite knowing his "shady character." The RNC was also quick to point out Obama's support of Blagojevich as well. I don't know what the commentator meant when he said Obama knew Blagojevich was a "shady character". (And how would the commentator know what Obama knew?)
Anyhow, this made me wonder: If you associate with someone who engages in financial/ethical wrongdoing, should (or will) your character be automatically impugned? Should you rebuke that person professionally and personally?
I’ve been thinking about this since my recent discussion with someone I occasionally do business, who I’ll call “Mr. C”. Mr. C is my smart, reliable go-to guy professionally. Whenever I have tough cases, I hire Mr. C to clean up the mess.
Last week Mr. C asked what I intended to do if and when I got laid off. I told him that I want to get another corporate job (versus a law firm job) since I'll likely get better benefits (e.g. matching 401k, ESOP plan, FSA, etc.) For some reason, I felt compelled to lay out my life plan to him. I told him once I pay off my debts in six years, I plan to buy a small place to live. Some time in my late 40's and early 50's, I plan to downshift my career to a government job until I qualify for Social Security and Medicare. (I’m considering working at the DMV like Patty and Selma from the Simpsons, or, the post office like Cliff Claven.)
Mr. C said my life plan was "the most depressing thing he ever heard", so I asked him what his grand future plans were. Big mistake! Mr. C said he was expecting a windfall in the near future and he was going to hide it from his wife. Once all his kids become legal adults, he planned to give the house to his wife and leave without a trace. He told me how he wanted to live a semi-nomadic life somewhere down south where no one can find him. He said he would leave a trust fund for his kids but he had no intention of paying spousal support.
I was stunned and said something to the effect of, “Sounds like someone’s suffering from a mid-life crisis!” We both laughed it off.
Notwithstanding this bizaare conversation, I've decided I'll continue to do business with him since what he does in his personal life is not my concern. I never took Community Property or Family Law classes during law school, so I don't know whether Mr. C's plans are illegal. (I do suspect it is illegal, though, since deserting a dependent spouse would presumably be against public policy.) Second of all, I'm not sure if it's even a plan. (Although a colleague previously told me that Mr. C told him the same story. If it IS a plan, he's pretty stupid to tell so many people.) Finally, none of this really matters to me since Mr. C is excellent at what he does and he gets the job assigned to him done well.A friend (who is not in the industry and doesn't know Mr. C) said, "If he's willing to screw over his wife, he'll be willing to screw you too! You should disassociate from him." When I refused, the friend said, "Well, when he gets caught doing something unethical, the fact that you trusted him is going to reflect negatively upon you."
Initially, I'm not convinced that someone who complains he's sick of his marriage and wants to abandon it, necessarily has a propensity to do something unethical. But does his rant about his failing marriage (and his revenge fantasy) evidence his "shady character" and thus raise alarms? Is the dirt in someone's personal life a sufficient basis to abandon a professional and personal friendship? And isn't there the proverb: "Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone"?