Ethics: The Meaning of ‘Like’ –

After a recent presidential debate, I saw polling questions that asked viewers whether watching the debate “made you like Candidate X more.” In a strictly “personal” sense, wholly separate from his policies, which I continue to oppose, the debate did make me “like” X more. But since polls that establish an uptick in a candidate’s likability seem not merely to reflect, but also to promote, the strength of a candidacy, I am tempted to answer the polling question with an emphatic “no.” My question: Is it wrong to lie to a pollster if you believe that telling the truth will add momentum to a political candidate you oppose? RAND COOPER, HARTFORD

Assuming the poll is sincerely trying to get an accurate read on the voting populace, you should not provide false information. Consciously lying about how you feel can skew the data. Poll results can have an impact on a race, but that is not an independent pollster’s intent. If that potentiality still worries you, it’s better not to participate. But I think you might be overlooking something critical: when asked if the debate made you like Candidate X more, your true answer may be far closer to no than you realize.

What is your relationship to Candidate X? In all likelihood, it’s that he’s running for office and you are a potential voter. So when you’re asked about the degree you like Candidate X, you are not being asked if you would now feel better about having him move into your basement or serve as the best man in your wedding. You are being asked if you like him more as a potential president. In this context, liking a candidate can be seen as a synonym for supporting a candidate (and his policies). And your feelings on that have not changed at all, since you’re willing to lie to a stranger in order to perpetuate the opposite sentiment.

The context of language dictates your answer. Let’s say a professional gambler asked, “Whom do you like in the Alabama-L.S.U. game?” You probably would not respond by saying: “Oh, they all seem like great kids. I like them equally.” You’d immediately understand what the word “like” means when placed in that specific context. The self-awareness of your question suggests that you know what “like” means in this context too. You’re being asked about the likability of a specific candidate but in a political framework. Your take-away from the debate was that Candidate X seemed affable, but that changed nothing about your willingness to support him. So how much do you really “like” him? You concede he did a good job, yet you still want him to lose. As a potential president, you don’t like him anymore than you did in the past. The debate changed nothing.


I work for a community center that is financed entirely by grants and donations. Recently, it was discovered that the founder embezzled funds. Legal issues aside, is it ethical to keep this under wraps as much as possible in order to keep the much-needed center afloat? If housecleaning was done with in-depth audits, and major donors were informed, would it be ethical not to tell smaller donors and volunteers? Is there a way to do the right thing and still save the community center’s reputation and future? NAME WITHHELD

Not really. I understand your desire to keep this quiet, and I respect your deeper motive, but you can’t let donors finance a community center based on misinformation about how it operates. You can’t let people volunteer for something they might unknowingly disagree with. And even if you disregard the ethics, it’s a bad idea to hide this type of scandal. Trying to cover something up, rather than exposing it voluntarily, could well destroy your institution from within. What you should do is this: Write a letter to every donor (regardless of magnitude) explaining in the first paragraph exactly what happened. But use the rest of the letter to stress how the improper actions of one person do not erase the larger value of the center and that their support is now infinitely more important than it has ever been before. Your integrity and transparency could offset the baggage of the founder’s deceit.


I am the chairman of the English department at a small private college. I started having the students pay for a six-month subscription to Time magazine. We use the magazine for vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing summaries and grammar. The director of the school told me he is canceling the subscriptions because he found the cover depicting a woman breast-feeding a toddler to be “morally offensive” and that students should not be required to pay for something morally unacceptable. I didn’t like the cover, but I thought it would serve as a great opportunity for discussion about freedom of the press. Next year our school’s accreditation is up for renewal. Instructors are supposed to have the freedom to select their teaching materials. If I report this incident to the accrediting organization, the school could be cited. I don’t want to lose my job; we don’t have a union, and we don’t have tenure. NAME WITHHELD

Report the incident to the accrediting organization and specifically note that you fear doing so might put your job at risk. (You might also want to consult a lawyer if you fear repercussions.) You are teaching at a college, which means you’re teaching adults who are interested in and entitled to a free exchange of ideas. The director’s behavior is intellectually destructive and should be penalized.


The Meaning of ‘Like’ –

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