I didn't know THAT was gonna happen...
There have been a couple of news stories of late that have made an impression on me. They both have to do with the consequences of an action that at the time probably seemed like a pretty minor deal...
#1, as you may have guessed, is the Martha Stewart story. She sold off stock in a company immediately before news was announced that caused the stock to plunge. Since she was friends with the CEO, the allegation was that she was tipped off and practiced something known as "insider trading". In the large scheme of things, the amount wasn't that large. We're not talking millions here. I believe we're talking tens of thousands. So what was the ramification of placing a phone call with her broker? She's hounded by the press for months, she is indicted by the FBI, she loses control of the company that bears her name, and she could likely serve jail time (not to mention some hefty monetary fine).
#2 is the Rick Neuheisel story. He WAS the coach of a college football team in Washington State, and he recently lost his job over revelations that he participated in a betting pool involving college basketball. Now, office pools on sports is a very common thing in the US. Granted, most people are talking pretty low stakes. If you win $100, you're flying high. In Neuheisel's case, it was thousands of dollars. In addition, it wasn't even the sport he coaches. So what were the ramifications of signing up for that sports pool? He's raked over the coals in the media, subjected to a great deal of personal embarrassment, and loses a multi-million dollar job.
Now, when you commit a serious crime, you expect consequences. Shoot someone, you (should) go to jail. Rob a bank, off you go. But sometimes, you decide to take an action that on the surface seems to be pretty inconsequential. Assuming Martha did what she did, she probably thought that selling a few thousand shares before she lost a few thousand dollars wasn't a big deal. Little did she know that the illegality of a small action (a phone call) would lead to such dire consequences. And for Rick, what was probably viewed as a recreational activity (participation in a pool) ended up costing him his reputation, his job, and a great deal more than he earned from winning the pool. Granted, in Neuheisel's case, there were a lot of other prior actions that caused the university to can him over this one, so it's not like he had a stellar reputation going into this incident. But still, the phrase "Sure, put my name down" has cost him dearly.
All too often, we tend to act first and think about it later (if at all). But in this day and age, there is much more public scrutiny on actions. Actions that may be borderline (or technically legal) at the time can come back to haunt one later. Intentions may have been good (or morally neutral) when the decision was made, but a cynical public may not buy them in hindsight. Stories such as these bring home the point... Listen to that little voice in the background. If there's that twinge of "wait a second...." when you start to do something, stop and think it through. Could this be wrong? Is there the chance that this could be viewed as a bad decision? Is the short term gain for whatever I'm about to do worth the potential long term damage that could result?
OK... enough for the bellybutton introspection... Let's get out there and have fun... Just be safe and look both ways before you cross the street (or sell stocks based on a hot tip, or bet than Aniheim will win the World Series, or...)