Personal Code of Ethics

This is another learning diary from Sustainability and International Business ethics class at University of Vaasa produced in April, 2015.
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The purpose of the code of ethics (COE) is to guide the moral and ethical behavior. The development of the personal COE belongs to the final stage of cognitive moral development model (Kohlberg, 1976). On this stage, the individual follows the autonomous decision-making according to principles rather than external influences (Wurtz, 2015). According to the extended model, the universal ethical principles drive the behavior rather than external influences do (Wurtz, 2015). In developing the personal COE, I take the position of the ethical absolutism. This perspective allows me to have a shorter, focused and standardized COE for the majority imaginable situations.

Howard and Korver (2008) provide practical suggestions helping with development of the most comprehensive and realistic COE. The authors argument that the COE has to be universal and reciprocal (Howard & Korver, 2008: 77) with which I strongly agree. Additionally, they advise that in the process of drafting the ethical code one focuses on “the three principal categories of wrongdoing: deceiving, stealing and harming (Howard & Korver, 2008: 73).” When the potential ethically challenging situations are outlined, one should think about the potential scenarios when one can accept certain exceptions. These are good starting points for the ethical code design.

In my COE, I change the perspective from wrongdoing to good doing and from exceptions to prioritizing. Howard and Korver (2008) calls to draft the behavior against the wrongdoing, when the better solution would be to draft the code of ethics along the positive aspects: instead of lying/deceiving – telling truth, instead of stealing – respecting/honoring ownership rights; instead of harming – promoting, profiting, benefiting. This changes perspective from the restriction of negative behavior with acceptable compromises towards the encouragement of positive orientation and productive thinking.

The three categories mentioned by Howard and Korver are interconnected too. It is seldom possible to lie without causing harm or steal without lying and harming. That is why the situations that require ethical decision-making need the integrated test against all of the categories. Let us call it triple-yes test. The opening case for Business Ethics Challenge, for example, presented a dilemma where a firm sells its product for radically high price explaining it by the initial high costs of development. If we set the issue under the triple-yes tests, it seems that the product will benefit both customer and firm. If we stop here, we miss on other ethical challenges. When we test the case on the truthfulness, the exaggerated profits seem to fall short of this ethical standard and, frankly, it seems more like a robbery.

In the nutshell, my ethical code amounts to the following statement: do and say to myself and the surrounding others only that, which is truth, honor and benefit. To ensure this, the triple-yes test needs positive approval without a compromise. These are three categories of questions requiring positive answer to comply with my ethical code and gain approval:

  1. Is what I say or do truthful, honest and sincere to others and myself?
  2. Does my action honor property rights of other? Is this mine or belongs to someone? If it is public or stays in the public, can I take or use it?
  3. Does my action, words or participation in any activity benefits others without harm? Does it promote, profit and help others? Does my action, word or a participation in activity benefits me too?

In the challenging ethical situations, there is always an alternative to questionable acting or saying. There is always an option of doing nothing or doing just enough to prevent questionable action. The same applies to saying: one can restrain his mouth, when additional talking can breach the truthfulness, honoring and benefit of other. I can explain why I do not do or say more than I did or said. This set of questions comes along those situations, which passed the previous triple-yes test or those that are on a border of compromise:

  • In a borderline situation, will my silence or inactivity compromise my previous commitments? Will my current commitments call for compromise on my previous commitments, promises or obligations? Will my silence compromise the truth, honor and benefit of those around me and myself?

If the answers to these questions are positive, I should restrain from it and remain inactive or silent.

This is a good moment to pause and to make another New Year commitment. Something like, I commit to application of these principles to all situations without exceptions, – works just fine. Along with the practical implementation of the ethical principles by continuous practice of these, I will focus on continuous evaluation of the performance and improvement in those areas that need attention.

 

References

  • Howard, R. A., & Korver, C. D. (2008). Chapter 4: Draft Your Code: Committing Yourself to Ethical Principles. In Ethics for the Real World: Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisions in Work and Life (1st ed., p. 224). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Kohlberg, Lawrence (1976). “Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach”. In Lickona, T. Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Holt, NY: Rinehart and Winston.
  • Wurtz, O. (2015). Making Decisions in Business Ethics. Vaasa: University of Vaasa.

 

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