If there is no one to see that a Code of Ethics is enforced, does it exist? No, this is not a Zen koan. It is a real question.
Most professional organizations have a Code of Ethics that its members adhere to. In some cases, there are committees or administration that take up cases of breach of ethics, but in others the code is one of honor only. In other words, you read it, you sign it and the rest is up to you.
In life there are always individuals who have enormous egos who assume the world was built only to fall at their feet. Such individuals are often pompous and bloated with their opinion of themselves. They are better than everyone else. Codes of Ethics for them? Nawwww.
I was taught early on to be suspicious of such people, to question why anyone would need or want to boast about themself, “I am the greatest”, lest they seem like egomaniacs or deluded fools. Guess what? Many people in this world were taught no such thing. Often this kind of rhetoric works very effectively, creating “spin” that builds the image of the individual out in the world. I have never understood why it works, but it does.
I have known many singing teachers over the years who have no compunctions whatsoever telling another teacher, “I have gift from God to teach”, or “I am a minister in my work as a singing teacher” or “when it comes to singing, I know more than most people could learn in ten lifetimes”. That these people are patted on the back still boggles my mind, but they are. In a society that does not recognize humility, selflessness, or modesty, such people thrive. As I have written here before, though, that does not mean they are what they claim to be. Code of Ethics for them? Nawwwwww.
If someone says they adhere to a code of ethics and you know that they are not doing that, but you choose to do nothing and say nothing, then there is no code of ethics. Rather, what there is would be called a “gentleman’s/gentlewoman’s agreement” about ethics being whatever it seems convenient for them to be. If there are no penalties whatsoever for violating a code of ethics that you adhere to only through the honor system, and if your sense of honor is “do what works”, then there is no code. This is the situation in several singing teaching organizations.
That which is wrong, is wrong. That which does not work, does not. The deciding factors are clear if you have the eyes to see them. The confusion comes when you look through eyes that are clouded by your own “spin”. Be careful. When you give your word by signing a code of ethics and then you violate that pledge, even if no one knows you have done so, you will pay a price.
Someday the profession might have a code of ethics that can be policed and enforced. In the meantime, beware those who do not have a code of ethics in relationship to work. Beware those who boast of their own overblown image. If you have never seen the Code of Ethics of a teaching organization for singing, take a look at the NATS website and see if you can find it. Then, pay attention to what it says and how that relates to your own circumstances.