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Improving our ethical climate.

Improving Our Ethical Climate: Part II

Why should we be concerned with ethical behavior? It is simply that we need and want to be ethical in both our private lives and in our professional lives, where our decisions may affect other people. Our happiness, our sense of well-being and our relationships with significant others all depend upon ethical, honest behavior. When we have secrets that we cannot share with our children, we isolate ourselves from them. When we cannot remember to whom we told what lies, we live in the shadows, always vulnerable to exposure. Whatever we gain by acting unethically (money, advantage, etc.,) is always short-lived; whatever we lose (integrity, self-esteem, etc.) is always hard to recover.

Our need to behave ethically is a very human need. We may not always be aware of it; we may even suppress it, but we have it. And we want those around us to behave ethically. When building inspectors take bribes, occupants risk injury, even death. When a policeman looks the other way, drug dealers are able to spread their poison. When scientists falsify their research, the lives and health of others can be placed in jeopardy. When a government clerk sells defense secrets to a foreign power, the security of everyone is threatened. When people who hold positions of trust do not live by the rules, there is a feeling that "everyone is doing it." We become suspicious; we lose faith in our government, our schools, even our churches. Our daily lives lose all semblance of security.

We also want to be a part of an organization whose purpose and activities are socially responsible. We do not want to work for an organization that practices discrimination or misrepresents the quality of its goods and services. Our struggles with questions of right and wrong in our private life are difficult enough; to be asked or directed to do something at work that violates our ethical standards is all the more stressful. It is even more troubling when we become aware of possible wrongdoing on the part of others in the organization. What then is our obligation to ourselves, to the organization and to the public?

It is often argued that private ethics has no place in the world of business, or government, or in the hospital emergency room. Those who argue this way contend that ethics is too private, too individual, for corporate use. A second objection is that ethics is too variable, too subjective, too situation bound and too culturally determined to bring into management or emergency room decision making.

To argue for separate business or medical ethics is to deny our basic heritage that all men and women are alike and equal. To accept separate business ethics, for example, is to argue that behavior which is unethical if done by John Doe, husband and father, might be defended as ethical if performed by John Doe, business leader. The reason that I insist upon an ethic that considers only individuals' behavior, not their role or status, is that otherwise persons of power and privilege would seek exemption from the rules that govern the behavior of others.

Whatever the reasons, there is a growing recognition of the need to improve our ethical climate. Call it ethics, call it morality, call it the Golden Rule: if we can learn to practice it ourselves and insist that others do likewise, then justice, fair play and openness will become core parts of all person-to-person relationships.

Russ Holloman is the Maxwell Professor of organizational behavior at Augusta College in Augusta, Georgia. Part I of Improving Our Ethical Climate appeared in the July/August issue.
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Title Annotation:part 2; ethics in both our private and professional lives
Author:Holloman, Russ
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Words:608
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