Finding that elusive line

op-edMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday. One of the many things on my mind of late is why people behave the way they do. I’ve come to the conclusion that at least some of that behavior is rooted in the lack of ethics, a personal code that tells us what is acceptable and what isn’t.

I found this to be one of the best discussions of what ethics is and what it isn’t. Over the years that I was in public accounting, I had a rule that I never dealt with those who weren’t ethical. I always met with a potential client before accepting them. Some called it an interview, which is probably true. I always thought it was important to deal only with ethical people. Besides, the potential client – generally referred to me by another client – had the opportunity to assess me as well. Sometimes we chose to work together, other times not.

One of the biggest surprises for me in my career shift has been the extent to which I have to devise ways to keep my students from cheating. It’s an epidemic – and I wonder what it portends for the future. Today’s ethical lapses could look like child’s play in the coming years.

And it’s not just cheating. There’s the whole lack of respect thing going on: respect for the position, even if not for the person; respect for positions, even if you disagree. It’s not just a cliche’ to say that you can disagree without being disagreeable; with a little effort, you really can. For me, it is why I can maintain relationships with those on both sides of the political aisle – and those in the middle – because while we may disagree, we can do so without becoming raving lunatics about it. (And for those who can’t do that, I don’t waste my time.) The world is not awash in red and blue, despite all of the efforts to paint it so.

One other thing I find extremely bothersome: situational ethics. Sorry, but if something is wrong, it’s wrong even if your guy does it. And intellectual honesty requires that you say so. If you would have called out the other guy, then call out your own.

Any man who talks about a woman’s looks who is not his wife or partner is making a sexist remark. I can’t find the link right now but I recall reading yesterday that the GOP in SC made a remark about Elizabeth Colbert Bush’s looks. And, of course, it’s all over the place that the president made a remark about the California AG Kamala Harris’ looks. Neither remark is appropriate and both are sexist. It doesn’t matter who said it – sexism is sexism.

The bottom line for me is that everyone needs to figure out what they think is right and what they think is wrong. And then apply it – every single day, in every single situation.

Not having ethics, it seems to me, is not an option.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.

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