Have you ever heard of something called Jewish guilt?”
“While we tend to think of guilt as negative,” I said, “but it is something that is fundamental to our proper functioning. “Let me show you what I mean. Have you ever had a really nagging moral dilemma? Where you really wanted to do something but knew it was wrong? Not clearly wrong in the sense of a crime, more of something that we would call a white lie, something almost innocent sounding, but not quite.
“Picture this in your mind: Your firm is involved in a merger between two publicly traded major corporations. You are having lunch with an old school buddy, Bob, and the conversation turns to the merger. As it turns out he works for an investment firm.
‘Listen’ He says. ‘This is gold! I have a client that would pay a king’s ransom for that kind of information, if you could just get me a few details, even the asking price and when it is going to happen, it would be so valuable!’
‘Wait Bob, what do you mean?’ You respond, ‘That’s confidential client information. What you’re talking about is what they call insider trading. It’s illegal, I could be disbarred. I mean people go to prison for that kind of thing. Forget it. No way.’
So you leave the restaurant with a kind of queasy feeling inside, not giving much thought to what happened.
Later that day the phone rings. It’s Bob.
‘Yeah, how are you doing?
‘Listen, I spoke with my client. He told me that if I could get him that information, he would wire transfer forty thousand dollars into my account by tomorrow morning. What do you say old buddy, fifty fifty? Think about it, no risk; easy money. I’ll call you later.’ And he hangs up.
As you hear him click off, you feel a sinking feeling in your stomach. Twenty thousand dollars sure could go a long way. And you know fully well, there is no way in the world that you could get caught for this kind of thing. One phone conversation, no records, no way to tie it back to you. Besides, it is too petty for anyone to get excited about. Just an easy twenty grand.
And so you begin that fight. That battle between two opposing forces, between what you want, and that Voice Inside that knows what is right.
So it starts.
‘Come on now, who gets hurt?’ You say to yourself, ‘These are huge corporations; they have billions of dollars in assets. The only thing that is going to happen is that Bob’s client will know about the merger so he will buy a block of stocks. It’s not like we’re dealing with some huge amount of money that will change the market… He makes out well, Bob and I make out well. No one gets hurt. Why not?’
But that Voice Inside doesn’t let you decide. It says. ‘Come on, you know it’s wrong. It’s using information that you were trusted with, it’s confidential for a reason. Besides, it violates the law.’
‘So what,’ you respond, ‘What’s stolen? Where is the crime? It is just using some information that I happen to have.’
‘But’, that voice says, “it’s against the law of the land. You took an oath to uphold that law. How can you go now and violate that law for your own interests?’
And this goes on all night, this conversation between the two voices inside you. You barely sleep that night.
“Now, lets take this a step further. Let’s imagine for a moment that our little episode doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. Let’s imagine you go through with the deal. The next day you call up your old buddy, a couple of brief sentences and it’s done. True to his word within two hours twenty thousand dollars is deposited into your account.
Now what? Initially you feel quite good. After all, that was the easiest money that you ever made. But at dinner that evening, you just don’t feel quite yourself, something is bugging you.
Your wife looks at you and says, ‘Is everything OK?’
‘Yeah, just got something on my mind. Nothing big.’
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘No, just something I have to sort out.’
‘You sure? You really don’t look good.’
‘No, no I’m OK, really just something I need to work out. I’m OK, really.’
That evening, you have little peace. That Voice Inside your head starts in.
‘Why did you do that? You don’t lack money. You have a good job. You know why you did it, it was greed. Simple, plain old greed.’
‘Oh come on now.’ You answer. ‘I’m thinking of getting married, twenty grand can go along way towards a down payment on a house you know.’ But the voice doesn’t stop.
‘What’s next? Cheating on taxes, maybe a little falsifying of documents, where does it end?’
‘Oh come on now.’ You answer back. ‘It was a little innocent sharing of information, that’s all.’
‘No it wasn’t. How come you were so embarrassed when your wife asked you about it? How come you clammed right up? It’s because it was wrong and you know it.’ The voice continues.
‘Come on now, no one was hurt, no harm was done.’ You shoot back.
‘Yeah, but it was wrong. You broke the law. Honestly, I’m disappointed in you.’
‘Leave me alone!’
‘No, it was wrong and you know it! You did something that you shouldn’t have.’
‘So I did, so what? So I broke a law, who cares, people do things like that a thousand time a day.’
‘Yeah but you aren’t like those people. You don’t do those kinds of things. You should be ashamed of yourself.’
‘Leave me alone!’ “What are you my mother or something? Just bug off, and leave me alone!’ you scream.
The problem is that voice won’t leave you alone. You can run from it. You can try to hide from it. You can try to distract yourself, but when you are alone, when your busy work is done, that voice comes back, and haunts you. And you can’t escape it, because that voice is you. It is that part of you that is embarrassed by what you have done. It is that part of you that is noble and good and proper. It is that part of you that only wants to do what is right. It is that part of you that strives for greatness.”