The Perception of Ethics

Ethics – it’s a topic on everyone’s mind these days.  If you’re still watching the news or listening to the radio or tweeting on Twitter you can’t avoid hearing about the consequences of unethical behavior.  It is all around us; related to the cars we drive to the banks we put our money into, to the value of our homes. Why, then, when someone mentions the word “ethics” do people roll their eyes or start running for the door?  Let’s explore.

Ethics is fascinating, at least for me.  Ok, so call me a weirdo, an oddball, a freak. These descriptors are ok, but less polite terms are unacceptable.  And No – “ethics police” is NOT an acceptable descriptor!  But reactions to the word never fail to amaze me!  It seems that the mere mention of the word  “ethics” causes most people to automatically visualize policing activities and skip straight to getting caught doing something bad.  We all have at least one skeleton in the closet we’d rather remain hidden, right? A good friend pointed out this glaringly obvious viewpoint.  Ah, so that’s why everyone starts running for the door when the topic comes up, huh?  How is it possible that one little word can strike such fear into people who truly believe they have integrity and are good, law-abiding citizens?  And how Odd, when dictionary definitions usually include statements showing the word and the concept of ethics encompass not only wrong behavior, but also right behavior!

Looks like as a society we have chosen to focus on the negative aspects of ethics rather than the positive.  We let fear intervene and guide our attitudes. Compliance governs our actions.  And look at the mess we’re in as a result.  There are so many rules and regulations that it is impossible to always be in compliance! If you’ve recently tried to get your mortgage refinanced or obtain funding for your small business you know exactly what I mean. Bankers will tell you they want to be your friend but the regulators just don’t see their point of view…. That’s a whole separate topic for discussion – good, juicy conversation on the ethics of the banking industry. It’s so much fun to stir the pot, isn’t it??

But let’s get back to the point at hand. Why do we automatically think up the worst possible outcomes, the most negative results, fears or worries? We’ve forgotten that every situation’s dark side also has a light side.  What stops us from focusing on the positive for a change? And what can possibly be positive about ethics??

Here’s some interesting facts I found while Googling away on the Internet.  By investing in creating and cultivating an ethical culture, a business can increase its market value, have less earnings volatility, reduce potential fines and penalties if sued, attract and retain top talent and keep people happy and productive, even in a down economy like the one we’re currently experiencing.  A perception of a positive ethical culture can influence more customers to purchase your products and services and stay loyal to you, even if your prices are higher than the competition.  A positive ethical culture can persuade people to buy shares in your company and invest in helping you to grow. All it takes is an explicitly stated commitment to doing the right thing from the leaders at the top all the way down the chain.  I’m not making these claims up – this information comes from studies being performed by experts around the world on the value of good ethical behavior and right conduct. These are good things, right?  We could use a little good news right about now.  And committing to an ethical culture just might be the ticket out of our misery.

In this world where everything has to have immediate brand recognition the perception of ethics can make you or break you. And it can happen faster than ever through social media sites like Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn. There’s nowhere to hide anymore, is there? Reputation is built on trust. Trust takes years to build and minutes to destroy.  The funny thing is that it doesn’t have to be facts that destroy trust, only a rumor. And we no longer have full control of our image.

Ah, but wait…. What would it be like if we turned our viewpoints around to recreate a positive perception of ethics? A viewpoint that reminds us how good it feels to do the right thing, treat people with respect, and deliver what we promise.  Look at what happened to “Sully” Sullenberger, who has become a national hero here in the US because of his skill and his desire to save the lives of everyone on board his airplane.  It can happen – I know we can turn the reputation of ethics around to represent something positive and desirable!

Ha.  Maybe I’m living in Dreamland where everything is possible. Maybe I truly am crazy to hope that we can as a society remember what it’s like to focus on the positive opportunities that ethical conduct offers us.  Ok, so maybe not everyone will buy into this ideal, but all of us do have free will choice, right? So we can choose to do the right thing, even knowing it might be the harder or longer road to take. We can choose to see the bright side. We can choose to remember that the perception of ethics has a “right” side.  Let’s try it for a week and see what happens!!!

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