Amy Rees Anderson

You can’t say that you didn’t know

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

That quote comes from a famous speech William Wilberforce gave to English parliament prior to the vote on the Abolition Bill in 1789. It was an incredibly powerful speech because he was reminding people that it is not okay to simply pretend something wrong wasn’t occurring when they knew it was. He reminded people that choosing to look the other way doesn’t actually release them from their responsibility to do the right things. What a powerful message he teaches with that one sentence.

We can tell ourselves that it’s not our problem, or that it’s no big deal, but at the end of the day if we know about unethical things going on we have a moral (and often legal) obligation to do something about it.

We can’t allow ourselves to ever rationalize things that are unethical. Rationalization is a dangerous thing because it’s used to convince oneself that there is no need to feel bad about something, whether it something unethical we ourselves have done or it’s something bad we know someone else has done.

Dr. Pamela Murphy, an accounting professor specializing in audit and fraud in organizations states, “Rationalization is an incredibly powerful force. What rationalizing does for us is that it allows us to do something that is unethical and downright fraudulent and not feel bad about it.”

According to Pamela there are six degrees of rationalization that enable people to commit fraud while still convincing themselves they are maintaining their ethical principles. They are:

1. Shifting The Blame: “Everyone does it.”
2. Pleading Ignorance: “I can’t see that it hurts anyone.”
3. Moral Justification: “I’m protecting the company… the employees…my family…”
4. Advantageous Comparison: “This is nothing compared to…”
5. Letting Victim Take the Fall: “They had it coming.”
6. Euphemistic Labeling: “I am trying to level the playing field.”

Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into rationalizing away what you know to be wrong…remember William’s powerful words “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

~Amy Rees Anderson


  • Jane Anderson says:

    This is powerful. Everyone should read it. I have heard it everywhere. When someone says, “I can rationalize anything” I know a lot of times it’s just funny, but there are other times when rationalizing is awfully close to danger zone.

  • Coral Ward says:

    I have just read this. Wonderful and so well explained. I am giving this to my daughter to read. I have listened to a journalist speak about her book about refugees “We Cant Say That We Didn’t Know”. You might like this.

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