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Lessons from the Fallen Mighty

By Marty Nemko

Martha Stewart, Ken Lay, Bernard Ebbers, Franklin Raines, and Winona Ryder each had enough money to last ten lifetimes, yet each risked so much just to get more money. LESSON: In assessing an action’s risk/reward ratio, don’t just estimate your likelihood of getting caught. Ask yourself, “Would winning this gamble benefit my life enough to risk the consequence of my gamble failing?” And even if your proposed gamble passes that test, don’t be like the above miscreants: please force yourself to resist unethical behavior. You may not believe me, but any lucre you’ll gain isn’t worth your screwing other people, which, in turn, invalidates your life.

Barry Bonds apparently told a girlfriend that he took steroids, information that could destroy him. Years later, she tattled and Bonds’ achievements will forever bear an asterisk of shame. LESSON: Think three times before telling someone—even someone you trust-- anything that could hurt you. COROLLARY: Be wary of sleeping with someone risky. (Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and Boeing’s former star president, Harry Stonecipher, probably could benefit from that lesson.)

In yet another example of the dangers of risky sex, Scott Peterson’s affair pushed his already stressful life beyond his breaking point. Despite having an insecure job as a fertilizer salesman, Scott took on the responsibility of marriage, of having a child, and then the added stress of an affair. While most of us wouldn’t respond to that stress as Peterson did, stress does make us more likely to make bad decisions: LESSON: Keep your life simple.

Whether or not Michael Jackson is found guilty of a crime, he certainly abdicated his responsibility to children—to not endanger their well-being. LESSON: In making or delivering a product or service to children, please remember that they are vulnerable. Create only products or services you’d deem worthy of your own kids. Do you really want to work for a company that makes sugary cereals? Idiotic cartoons? Overpriced sneakers? If you work directly with children, treat them as you would want to have been treated when you were a child.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay took a trip paid for by a lobbying organization. But especially because he’s known for his authoritarian rule and leads a political party that the media dislikes, DeLay should have anticipated he’d be judged by a double standard. His Democrat counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, also got a free trip from the same lobbying organization but she’s well liked and so suffers far less reprisals. LESSON: The more controversial you are, the more cautious you must be.

Terri Schiavo’s parents, John and Mary Schindler, despite turndowns from 22 courts, proceeded to court #23, only to be turned down yet again, costing them and their supporters a fortune and hubristically wasting huge amounts of precious court time and in turn, taxpayer dollars. LESSON: When you have a bad case, give it up.

Although Osama Bin Laden has been reduced to living in a cave, his 9/11 “success” offers us a lesson that’s sad but true. The successful bombing has helped Al Qaeda to recruit many more terrorists and raise lots of money. It also, ironically, has dramatically increased Islam’s positive media coverage. LESSON: Violence works. Lest you recoil at that, may I remind you that violence gave the US independence from the British, the Watts riots brought massive new social programs to the inner city, the Intifada is forcing Israel to give the Palestinians a state, and Islamic terrorists’ kidnapping an Italian reporter resulted in Italy pulling all its forces from Iraq. Alas, violence does work and ever more perpetrators know it. So, employers and employees must be ever more prepared for violence: whether from employees, school shooters, terrorists, or activist groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), whose spokesman, Bruce Frerdrich, at a national animal rights convention said, “'I think it would be a great thing if, you know, all these fast food outlets and these slaughterhouses and these laboratories and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow.'"

Most experts believed OJ Simpson killed his wife, yet he got off. LESSONS: Make your case before a sympathetic audience, and importantly, hire the best.

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