Living an Ethical Life

The topic of “ethics” has been on my mind lately as I have been facilitating workshops on “Ethical Issues in Therapy” for Licensed Mental Health Practitioners (counselors, social workers, psychologists, etc.) and I have 2 more coming up in 2 weeks.  The attendees have had great questions and insights on the subject, but people in the mental health profession are not the only ones who must face ethical questions.  Every one of us must face ethical issues or dilemmas in our personal and professional lives.

According to WolframAlpha (on my iPhone), the definition of ethics is:  1. Motivation based on ideas of right and wrong or 2. the philosophical study of moral values and rules.  As we move through each and every day, we must evaluate our decisions based on our moral values or ideas of what is right and what is wrong.  It appears as if this should be easy, a no-brainer, but decisions are not always black or white.  A simple example happens to every driver nearly every day.  What do you do when you arrive at an intersection as the light is changing to yellow or red?  Do you step on it to get through it or do you stomp on the brakes to stop as quickly as you can?  I see drivers that are side by side making different choices.  Is one right and one wrong?  What is the reasoning behind their choices?  It’s not always a clear cut decision, even when you are behind the wheel.

Another issue that has arisen frequently and in recent years is the use of cell phones while driving.  Do you talk or text while you drive?  Why or why not?  Your decision may not be based purely on your values, but on the laws where you live.  Do you consider the danger to others and yourself or do you hate to miss a phone call and opt to answer?  Is it clear in your mind?  Do you make the same decision every time due to your convictions?  Or do you make exceptions to your own rules?

What are your ethical issues at work?  Do you and your colleagues discuss these issues?  Are you aware of illegal or immoral activity in your workplace?  What would you do if there was something illegal or immoral occurring?  If you became aware, is there someone you could go to in order to resolve the issue?  Or would you just keep quiet due to fear of losing your job?  How would you feel if you didn’t confront it or report it?  Do you have a moral obligation to report it?  Have you ever left a job for ethical reasons?  I have and I didn’t regret it.  I couldn’t work in a toxic environment that allowed unethical activities.  I learned that no job was worth compromising my moral values and ethics.

Sometimes the issues are small, such as people stealing office supplies, which many people overlook or ignore.  Sometimes the issues are big, such as embezzling or improper billing practices.  Do you see them as the same ethically?  Do you treat them the same?  What would you do?

It is up to each one of us to examine our conscience and make ethical decisions that feel right.  I remember someone a long time ago saying that when they made decisions, they imagined their mother standing by watching them.  If they were about to do something they wouldn’t want their mother to see, they knew it wasn’t morally right.  If they knew their mother would be proud of their decision, they knew it was the right thing to do.  (Keep in mind that although this test may work for most of us, it certainly wouldn’t apply to all of us.)  What is your litmus test?

I pose these questions for you to consider as you enter each day and realize the number of decisions you make based on your moral compass.  If there are things occurring in your workplace that cause you to feel uncomfortable, consider why you feel this way and what somebody that you see as having high ethical values would do.  It is up to each of us to make our workplaces, as well as our homes, ethical and positive environments so we may make a positive impact on the world.

This article was posted in the Coach's Corner of the ASTD Newsletter for August  2014.  You can reach Kolleen through this website, Linked In, Facebook or by calling her at (402) 499-5547.  She offers workshops, small groups and individual life coaching on a variety of topics to help you create the life you dream of but haven't been able to achieve.