To some, it may have seemed to just be a conversation about a really cute orange or red or pink teddy bear. Oops, I sound like a dude – okay I’ll go with coral. Honestly, the bear was so striking that it was the thing I first noticed about the guy in the lobby of the military base store who was holding several stuff animals and had a bag filled with more beside him. The man who I will call Earl was there to refill a vending machine with prizes.

It was the arcade game with that mechanical claw gizmo a contestant can use to supposedly grab and win a stuffed animal after forking over .25 or .50 cents. Sounds easy, but when I’ve tried my luck, that claw thing does not seem to have enough ump to pick up anything. Besides, sense I have never actually seen anyone win I’m now convinced that Earl couldn’t have been there to really make a replenishment (unless it’s like the really tiny tellers at the ATM that I just don’t see either). I wondered about Earl’s real reason for being there. Could it have just been the test?

Just like me, one of the three women congregating near Earl noticed the bear and commented on how cute it was; the other two chimed in their agreement of coral bear’s appeal. There, Earl a military buff who was already trying to solicit sympathy for not being able to shop in the PX seized his opportunity! “Here, you can have it”, Earl earnestly offered. “No thanks”, she replied that it would not be right for her to accept the bear under these circumstances. But Earl was undeterred in his determination to force the stuffed animal on the woman. “I saw you just win it” was his next ploy to purchase the woman’s soul (okay, I might be a little dramatic here, but are you feeling me on this?). Again, she declined.

By now, a confused and desperate Earl was offering the teddy to any of the three women; but they all refused telling him that their positions at the base precluded their acceptance of his gift. No doubt many a woman in the past had readily accepted his tempting offers, but this time he was barking up the wrong tree. A confused Earl was basically begging before the exchange ended. Perhaps, Earl was in it to make a love connection and he felt shot down. But Earl would have been out of line even if his inclination was solely romantic; although that was not the only reason he was on thin ice.

Earl’s efforts were a clear attempt to ingratiate himself specifically with base personnel, despite the fact that he may not have consciously been aware of this. After all, he didn’t offer the adorable bear to the sister sitting nearby who was eyeing it that he didn’t think could do anything for him. That would be me. And it’s a good thing too, because he would have gotten more of the same. As an ethicist I tend to respond firmly on such matters so no one can walk away confused about my integrity. I would have had to tell Earl that he was just plain wrong considering that the stuffed animals were not his private bargaining chips. He brought them there for a purpose and every indication was that they belonged to his company – not him personally – meaning that he could not rightly give them away to anyone; meaning that he failed.

There are no grades in ethics. An ethical test result is either pass or fail. While Earl probably has failed many tests along the way evident in his readily tempting others, those ladies, passed with flying colors! I walked up to them and told them how impressed I was. You just never know who is watching.

What’s all the big deal? Acceptance of gratuities is the first rung on a descending staircase of corruption. Does anyone who accepts a gratuity going to ruin his or her character? No, but everyone who ultimately becomes corrupt likely enters the gateway accepting small, but improper gifts.

Would you pass the test even if it was a really cute teddy bear and you had just the right child in mind to give it to? Hopefully, you could resist the temptation but if you think you would falter, consider this: would you be comfortable answering questions from the child about the bear’s origins? No, then what – modify the story? See just how slippery the slope is? The right way is the only way.

People face ethical dilemmas everyday. Passing these most important tests of all is as simple as making the right choice; and I promise you the more you pass, the easier it gets.

Author's Bio: 

DEA Special Agent in Charge (retired) June Werdlow Rogers (formerly June W. Stansbury) holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and Criminology earned at the University of Maryland. She has 28 years of law enforcement experience from 3 different agencies including the Detroit Police Department and Central Michigan University’s Department of Public Safety.

Dr. Werdlow Rogers is the Author of Becoming Ethically Marketable: A Guide for Criminal Justice Majors and Recruits (available from She also was a contributing author in the book Police Psychology into the 21st Century (Kurke and Scrivner) writing chapter 11 on Counseling and Diversity Issues (available through Dr. Werdlow Rogers recently completed a manuscript on the topic of women and leadership pending publication in 2010 by a prominent publisher. Other articles written by Dr. Werdlow Rogers may be accessed at Dr. Werdlow Rogers has been a speaker on numerous occasions among diverse audiences, including national professional conferences, colleges and universities, and at numerous training seminars. She has made public appearances on television and radio, and is heavily quoted in printed media accessible on the internet.

Dr. Werdlow Rogers has received numerous awards. She has held membership in many organizations including the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, served on the executive staff for the Interagency Committed of Women in Federal Law Enforcement (ICWIFLE), and was at one time a church trustee. Moreover, Dr. Werdlow Rogers developed a videotape and presentation entitled “Dangerous Liaisons: Drug Dealers and You,” designed to inform people about the dangers of involvement with drug dealers, and to provide information about how drug dealers behaviorally operate. She continues to educate community groups in a presentation entitled “Risky Business: How to Avoid Involvement in the Drug Trade,” in an effort to reduce drug facilitation. In 2007, her efforts led to the nationally recognized Generations Rx: Children in the Medicine Cabinet, a public awareness effort aimed at reducing pharmaceutical drug abuse through a unique forum. This novel campaign piloted in Brockton, MA offered a drug identification and drop zone, permitting the public, for the first time, to properly dispose of unwanted drugs and learn the identity of any surrendered drug that the participants suspected was being abused by loved ones.