Ethics and Tough Times

by Engineer Designer on July 3, 2010

The word ethics is, at times, poorly used. It is commonly equated with a set of laws or mores that must or should be followed by a professional, or for that matter, any individual. Ethics courses, at least those I've attended, have been largely a collection of "do be's" and "don't be's" (if you know what those are you're dating yourself) for no stated reason other than everybody knows we are supposed to be "good". cheatingYet it is usually neglected to point out why ethics are even considered. What exactly is good? There is an axiom that I've seen to be true. "Clean hands make for a happy life". It's a basic tenant that if lived by leads to happier more carefree living. In bad times it may seem a bit easier to be tempted to bend the rules; to go outside the bracket of what we know is the right way. What is right? I've got a thought. It is that which promotes maximum survival, when balanced out, for every facet of one's existence. Not just self, but for family, one's group, the whole of mankind; not to mention to all of life on this planet, the planet itself and all it contains, and for beauty for its own sake....and, yep I'm going to say it,  God.  Regardless of our  religious convictions I think most would agree that if we conducted ourselves as though being monitored by God even our most private decisions to action would be influenced. The person who steals may think he his benefiting himself. But look at the harm done. Harm to the victim. Harm to himself in that he can never walk, head upright and proud, into the vicinity of where he did the crime (which may include the entire world). He has harmed his family on many levels, his group, if he has one (likely he does not because of his individuation from his fellow man), and all the other areas. He likely will not maintain the stolen item, since he has no pride of ownership. One never really owns what he has stolen. Just think. I write this because I was recently approached by a past client requesting that I reissue an invoice for a past service at an amount higher than what I had actually charged. (There is no chance he will ever read this blog because he doesn't use computers at all). This client had been a good client and one from whom I considered the chance for  future business. But this request took me by surprise. To do so would likely never be caught by anyone. It might even secure this client's future patronage. But to do so would be wrong; not to mention likely legal issues that might manifest. I suspect the request was made to substantiate a bill, falsely rendered, to his client (my indirect one). That transgression was now calling for another transgression being asked of me. And so on and so on. Maybe he did this because "times are tough". Nice justification. Does that make it right? He has lost a portion of my trust. Interestingly enough, when he called, my instant answer was not "no". I said it sounded wrong but I'd get back to him. I had multiple voices in my mind, it seemed, saying things like," Hey, he is a valued client", or "I want his continued business" or "It might be okay" and such drivel. After hanging up, within about 5 seconds I got a grip of my own ethics and rejected the action flat out. I knew the slippery slope that such and action would likely have put me upon. There was only one right answer.  I phoned an told him so. I think he was, actually, relieved. Interesting. There are no valid reasons to become unethical. It never enhances ones survival. If times appear tough, the  situations are not made easier by taking actions that are not correct and ethical on the maximum number of levels.  All of us have seen examples of folks, in bad situation, taking futile and foolish actions which far worsened the actual scene.  And any gain, if apparently obtained but in an unethical way,  is only apparent. Tough times can test the ethical mettle of us. Maybe in only the smallest of ways. But temptations to go outside the lines of what we, in our hearts, know to be right should be quickly defused. I hope each of us will take care, during these times, to do what is right. That is what will get us through difficult and great times alike. Our correct actions will make the good times come quickly. Our clean hands will make for our own happiness, and our true prosperity. I do not write this as Mr. Goody Two Shoes.  I am not.  I write this as a little realization and self reminder that I thought I would share.