Ethics? Who talks about ethics?
We live in a society in which ethics is rarely discussed. Often people don’t really know how to answer when asked if a particular person’s behavior is ethical.
Some people confuse ethics with obeying the law. Some people think it is about doing whatever one wants. According to the dictionary ethics is that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and the ends of such actions.
The issue then is — what is “good” and what is “bad” regarding motives or end results? What, exactly is ethical behavior? Some people are not taught what might be good or bad in an organized value system grounded in a society, a culture, a religion or a broad moral philosophy. In fact, many people are not taught those things and are left to operate on their own (as in the above example) or to act as if ethics do not matter at all. This is compounded when there is no punishment for acting in an unethical manner. You can be unethical without breaking a law and you can often be unethical and get away with it with no repercussions of any kind.
Even in a profession whereby an attempt has been made to establish a code of ethics (see AATS, NATS and NYSTA), there is no actual punishment for violating that code once it is established. It’s an honor system. Sometimes, in the rare case wherein someone gets caught doing something unethical, that individual can still proceed as if he or she has done nothing wrong. If they were worried about “ethics” they wouldn’t have behaved badly in the first place. Assuming they get caught and there is no punishment, why should they change anything at all? I know of at least one instance where exactly that scenario happened. The man violated ethical standards, falsely advertising that he had a doctoral degree which had never been conferred, was reprimanded by the above three professional organizations but now, years later, is a well-respected member of the profession, acting as if nothing happened. Were there consequences to his deceptive actions? None whatsoever.
If there are no consequences, what, then, is the purpose of behaving in an ethical manner?
You cannot escape from yourself.
Every time anyone does something that is unfair, unkind, untruthful and/or deliberately hurtful to someone else, and does so knowingly, the perpetrator is paying a price, even if he doesn’t think so. If you lie to make yourself look good to a superior so you can get a raise, if you withhold the truth knowingly and this will cause someone else to be harmed, if you pad your credentials because you think no one will check (and no one does) you are, nevertheless, placing a blemish on your own soul. You can only do that so many times without falling down a deep hole and finding it nearly impossible to get out.
Every action has consequences. If you act without regard to what those consequences might be, and if you do something you know to be deliberately hurtful to another in the process, you are not only tarnishing your own reputation (even if you think you are making yourself look better), you are allowing yourself to align with those who do not care one way or the other about things like cheating, stealing or even, ultimately, breaking the law.
Your Word Actually Does Matter — A Lot
In this life, you have only your word and your reputation. You have only your own integrity. If you lie you have no integrity and that, in turn, in good time will seriously damage your reputation, and, actually your dignity. If you become known as a liar, as someone who tries to manipulate others for personal gain, if you become known as a fraud — a cheap, weak person who will flatter someone to their face and gossip about them behind their back — your own image will be permanently tarnished. Of course, some people know that and do something unethical anyway. Poor them.
I am at this moment aware of several individuals who have behaved in a manner that has to be called unethical but it is my assumption they are rationalizing their own behavior, justifying it or diminishing it as being of no importance. They do not have the integrity to responsibly own their actions and the repercussions of those actions and likely assume, incorrectly, that they will be able to proceed without consequences to themselves. These individuals are not ignorant, nor blind, and they are not unsophisticated. They are, sadly, behaving in a very self-serving way and do not want to admit that anything they are doing has any negative consequences in the outside world. They are wrong and in good time they will discover that. In addition, their actions are being seen and noticed by others. Sooner or later, there will be a price to pay.
As long as you know you are behaving in an ethical manner, you will be able to get up everyday for all of your life and look into your own eyes with clarity and calmness. If you keep your ethics slate clean you will have nothing to regret — ever.
Integrity – Either You Have It or You Don’t
The most important thing in your life is your own integrity and only you can mess it up.