Former NPR contributor Randy Cohen’s “Ethicist” column in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is titled “Work Search”. In it, he answers a reader’s question about the legality and ethics of workplace searches.

While noting that employers may have a legal right to search handbags etc., Cohen offers reasons why it still may not be the best policy:

To search someone is to treat him as if he were untrustworthy, if not dishonest.

That the hospital searches everyone mitigates this baleful effect slightly, because no employee is being singled out for special scrutiny.

But to mildly humiliate many does not eradicate the sting to each.

I wish more people could understand this effect when the issue of racial profiling comes up in the context of criminal arrests.

Some still proffer the illogical “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then it shouldn’t matter” argument while debating this issue.

Putting aside the “Never mind the Fourth Amendment” problem with that attitude for now, let’s acknowledge that it creates a bigger problem than it attempts to solve.

Subjecting one group of people to even “mild” but persistent humiliation breeds a natural disrespect, then fear, then hatred of law enforcement.

It’s pretty simple really. When a Government treats its citizens with respect, it will likewise receive respect in return.