BUSINESS ETHICS WATCHDOG & are under development...

Snakes in the Grass
Life's Lessons Learned The Hard Way: Get Over It!

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by Gary G. Ballard, San Diego photojournalist, watchdog ethics blogger

The best quote I heard about business advice as a young man came during the movie The Spanish Prisoner when Steve Martin’s scammer character said to the sucker:

“Always do business as if the person you're doing business with is trying to screw you, because most likely they are, and if they're not, you can be pleasantly surprised.”

Years later, I was discussing this philosophy with a respected mentor, a high-powered corporate creative officer (CCO), he said:

“No, no. My father told me to 'only do business with people you like and trust.'”

Somewhere between the two mind-sets lies the secrets to preventing one of life’s hardest lessons (unfairly getting screwed over) and ensuring its greatest rewards — a successful career, like a successful marriage, begins with picking the right people.

So then how do honest hard-working "nice people" choose ethical partners — and not fall victim to scammers, liars, cheaters, backstabbers, haters, thugs, crooks, thieves, predators, bullies, abusers, users and losers? 

And just as important: How to spot bad people early on and get over being wronged?

MOVIE PLOTIn The Spanish Prisoner It's the oldest con in the book, the snake-in-the-grass character (Jimmy Dell) again provides sage insight into the con-gamer's world. He uses his money, intelligence and charisma to manipulate and win his victim's trust by appearing to be a trustworthy friend and mentor. For example, he offered up this remarkable observation to his mark:

“People aren't that complicated, Joe, good people, bad people, they generally look like what they are.”

So open your eyes and ears and pay attention to the warning signs! They may not be as obvious as a rattlesnake shaking its tail, but the consequences of blind faith, blind love and blind loyalty can be as sobering up to reality as venom oozing from a fresh snake bite.

The shark mentality: In the movie dialog below, con man Jimmy Dell continues to feed the victim great mentoring advice about human nature in the real business world in a successful effort to win his trust so he could steal from him. Joe Ross had developed a valuable formula for his employer and thief Jimmy was setting him up to steal it from him:

“I think you’ll find that if what you’ve done for them is valuable, as you say it is -- if they are indebted to you morally, but not legally -- my experience is they will give you nothing. And, they will begin to act cruelly toward you.”

Why?” Joe responded.

To suppress their guilt,” Jimmy added.

To suppress their guilt, that universal wisdom is truly profound in understanding why people act like jerks, and so unfolds the basic human psychology at work when people steal from you or take advantage of you, and then become abusive, argumentative, dismissive, uncooperative, antagonistic and/or cruel to get rid of you.

The best lessons I've learned by personal experience about how to successfully read shady people, users and losers are:

  1. TRUST your gut instinct -- you are probably correct.
  2. IGNORE everything suspects SAY and scrutinize their ACTIONS.
  3. Invest a little time searching the Internet for public records, reviews and complaints against the people and companies you wish to trust and do business with for clues about their character and how they have treated people in the past.

You may have to dig for information about how to access arrest records and such; simply adding "complaint" or "grievance" to an Internet search may hit key pieces of the human personality puzzle. Professional investigators may also be hired to do background checks on business, corporations and individuals.


PRESIDENT TRUMPJust think about all the hard working people that news organizations allege President Donald Trump screwed over — it must be his crowning glory to rub his presidential victory in their faces, and their ultimate irony in life to be blacklisted by the President of the United States. Sorry, Mr. President Trump, no offense.

September 18, 2019

President TrumpBreaking News @ Sycuan:

President Donald J. Trump visited the historical US Grant Hotel property, a Sycuan tribal-owned and operated luxury hotel in downtown San Diego, as part of his Southern California re-election 2020 presidential republican party fund-raising tour.

I wonder if he met with Sycuan tribal leaders and compared notes about how to screw good hardworking people out of their careers and investments and the line the pockets of his wealthy friends and family members?

Birds of a feather - I say - no offence to The President or the good Sycuan people.

My own personal hard luck story about getting screwed over - and having my face rubbed it - is posted on my protest website:


Hindsight is the greatest teacher after the fact, but you can never know someone's Spiritual character until they show their true colors. For example, a chameleon changes its colors to deceive others, and a snake in the grass bites you because he's a snake — it's in his DNA — it is the nature of the animal.

SNAKE IN THE GRASS PICTURES Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Black Diamond Rattlers Crotalus helleri shaking tail and ready st strike
Original large rattle "Snake In The Grass" art posters close-up. 2) "No, no, if you help me, you will be my best friend. I will treat you differently." 3) "If you don't check the grass for snakes it's hard to complain about being bitten."

“No, no,” the snake said. “If you help me, you will be my best friend. I will treat you differently.”
- Young naive "Girl and the Snake" folktale


First, it is important to understand the psychological nature of Dishonesty | Bullying | Cheating | Victim Blaming | Corruption and Bad Faith because bad people shamelessly lie to and prey on nice people.

Let's also be clear about Integrity | Fair Play | Honesty | Ethics | Morality and Good Faith because good people and the Rule of Law are society's protectors against life's scumbags.

“If you're horrible to me, I'm going to write a song about it, and you won't like it. That's how I operate.”
- Taylor Swift (singer, 1989-)

Okay, then how should good people react when dishonest or abusive people or corrupted company officials try to bully or cheat them in the business world?

With a family to support — or if you love your work and want to be able to earn a living doing it — the best advice would seem simple: You suck it up and move forward with tight lips and eyes fixed firmly on the goal.

I GOT SCREWEDDo not be a whistleblower, a troublemaker or a plaintiff in a lawsuit unless you want to carry a disgruntled employee stigma on your work record because it will surely adversely affect your family's pocketbook and ruin your professional relationships.

On the other hand, you may be thinking about doing something crazy like asking someone for an explanation, speaking up for yourself to higher ups, writing a grievance letter, protesting on a public blog, filing a lawsuit, crawling under a rock and dying, or going after revenge — but beware — any one of these moves can be career suicide in unfair working environments and get the victim blacklisted regardless of clear and convincing evidence proving who's right or wrong.

That would seem to be why legal disputes like wrongful termination, whistle-blower, race and age discrimination suits are so heavily weighted in the justice system, because they tend to destroy a person's psyche and livelihood.

“In looking for people to (do business with), look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you.”

- Warren Buffett (Businessman, 1930-), (respectfully edited by G BALLARD)


“If you want to test a man's character, give him power.” - Abraham Lincoln (16th US president, 1809-1865)

Hatred is like drinking poison and hoping it kills the other person.

“Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained.”

- Thomas M. Cirignano, Author

How a person fights back or deals with being wronged mostly depends on his or her personality and the backbone and morals their mother or father or guardian instilled in them as a child.

“Life is a fight, but not everyone’s a fighter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.”
- Andrew Vachss (author)

I can still hear my grandma telling me: “Forget those people, and let your hard work be your measure.” However, good measure doesn’t pay the rent or the hospital bills when your children get sick.

Then there are great inspirational quotes by famous people to help us pause and think things through, like this classic timeless quotation by Chairman Bill Gates:

“Life is tough, get over it.”
- Bill Gates, Microsoft cofounder

Though I can’t help wondering if Mr. Gates got screwed and got over it, or if he screwed other people and was telling them to get over it.  Even Steve Jobs’ (Apple cofounder) biography contains this paradox of cold-blooded ruthlessness to get ahead versus morally doing the right thing by his business partners. Though Mr. Jobs seemed pretty adamant about protecting HIS good name and intellectual property.

If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither, pound the table (or clam up).

I think the key to successfully standing up to mean and immoral people or getting over it is understanding the hardball-games they play to better see through their clothes and better understand how they operate. This old legal aphorism was edited by G BALLARD - click on the graphic above for a free high-resolution law poster.

“Nothing is over until you decide to give up.”

- Captain Richard Phillips (Hostage of Somali pirates)

“We must straighten our backs... A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.”

- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Activist, 1929-1968)

“If one does not do evil things in the daytime, one need not fear knocks on the door in the middle of the night.”

- Unknown

“Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.”

- Judge Judy Sheindlin

“The common mistake that bullies make is assuming that because someone is nice that he or she is weak. Those traits have nothing to do with each other. In fact, it takes considerable strength and character to be a good person.”

- Mary Elizabeth Williams

“Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it.”

- Cale Yarborough (NASCAR driver, 1939)

“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.”

- Richard Nixon (37th US President 1913-1994)

However, sadly — for good, honest people trying to raise decent, hard-working children — the best lesson may center around:

“I am afraid we must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy.”
- George Bernard Shaw (Playwright, 1856-1950)

Perhaps we CAN raise children to be too honest and forthright — but who wouldn't want an effective charismatic leader of low moral character to do the people's dirty work while they look the other way and reap the benefits?

History and governments are full of such amoral characters.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Activist, 1929-1968)

My point here is to first remind yourself of who you are, your roots. And second, don't waste your health and peace of mind worrying about people and things that no longer matter — let go of them — or they will surely destroy you from the inside.

“A false friend and a shadow attend only while the sun shines.”

- Benjamin Franklin (6th US president, 1706-1790)

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

- Mark Twain (Writer, lecturer, 1835-1910)

“I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

- Jimmy Dean (Singer, 1928-2010)

“A stranger stabs you in the front; a friend stabs you in the back; a boyfriend stabs you in the heart, but best friends only poke each other with straws.”

- Unknown

“When people hurt you over and over, think of them like sandpaper. They may scratch and hurt you a bit, but in the end, you end up polished and they end up useless.”

- Chris Colfer (Actor, singer 1990-)

“Fear knocked at the door, Faith answered and nobody was there.”

- Unknown

“You are responsible for your life. You can't keep blaming somebody else for your dysfunction. Life is really about moving on.”

- Oprah Winfrey (Business woman, 1954-)

Of course no amounts of "wisdom" or clever maxims can ease your mind for long if you got seriously screwed over — only prayer and time and/or revenge can heal those kinds of wounds.


The top three greatest lessons I’ve learned the hard way about business @ I-GOT-SCREWED.ORG


I wrote the lead to this ethics article many years ago, but I was only recently moved to finish and publish it trying to get over my own negative life experience.

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