Exploring the Complexity of Ethics: From Personal Codes to Societal Impact
Ethics in Society: Roles, Religions, and Professions
People are either ethical or not ethical. Ethics come into play with people’s different roles they serve in society, including parenthood, mentorship, etc. Ethics is very important, and little time is spent discussing it or trying to understand what it means to us. The reason is that it is an insult to some people that anyone would consider to be unethical. Ethics is something we all must continue working on, and it is deeply personal. It is easy to think of ethics as just a set of rules since every organization we belong to has its own code of ethics.
So, how do we behave ethically, and what does it mean? Ethics is not the same as feelings because people still feel good when they do something wrong. For example, a sales agent closes a sale that will benefit him and his family and will not benefit the client. This does not mean it is wrong or bad for the client, but it is a little short of what the client really wanted.
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Another scenario is when a friend of mine wanted to get a truck and saw one he really liked and drove two hours to go look at the truck; when he got to the car dealership, the truck he wanted was not available, and the salesman what other vehicle was he interested in buying, in cutting the story short he ended up going home a different car, therefore the sales agent was looking out for himself and not the client.
The money and the lobbying that takes place in our government show how the law is often about power and influence to certain interests and not necessarily about what is ethical or just. Ethics is not religion. Some people are religious, and some are not. Religion pertains only to those who choose to follow it. And ethics pertains to everyone, and we should expect ethical behavior from every one, no matter what field or profession anyone might be in. One can certainly have ethics without religion, and vice versa.
Ethics Beyond Rules: Critical Thinking and Personal Codes
It is also important to realize ethics is not science. Behavioral science helps us understand why individuals, both agents and clients, behave in a certain way, but science does not tell us how we should behave or act. Ethics is not following culturally accepted customs either. For instance, one can run a Monte Carlo simulation all day, but if a bad outcome has only a 1 percent probability of happening, and then it does occur, the fact is that the 99 percent chance of success will no longer matter. Following social norms may work sometimes, but ethics demands that we acknowledge that we may be wrong, and we must continually challenge ourselves and not just be complacent and think we have it all figured out. Critical thinking is an ethical requirement for anyone giving financial advice to anyone else.
Ethics sometimes is like a rule book since many organizations have their code of ethics that provides guidance on what they believe to be ethical behavior. Shane Navritil’s observation on the site Zoomstart (http://www.zoomstart. com/ethics-and-integrity/) is that “if you understand that ethics is a set of standardized rules for conducting oneself morally, then it is easy to see that ethics is a lot like the tax code. It is a system where people are looking for loopholes and shelters. They are looking to get away with whatever they can while still staying within the rules.”
None of us likes being told what to do, and unfortunately, that is how ethics often comes across. There is a big difference between coming up with your own code of ethics and living and breathing it and following a code just because an association is telling you what to do. Ideally, your own ethical code should demand that you always look out for the client’s best interests first.
- Navritil, Shane. “Ethics and Integrity: A Closer Look at Standardized Rules.” Zoomstart. http://www.zoomstart.com/ethics-and-integrity/