“In responsibility both obedience and freedom are realized. Responsibility implies tension between obedience and freedom. There would be no more responsibility if either were made independent of the other.”
— Dietrich Bonhoffer, “Freedom,” in Ethics
There comes a time when we have to adopt an ethical code to govern our lives. To live a professional life, as college prepares us for, is to learn responsibility. To live a responsible life is to live an ethical life. No matter what we do in life, no matter what our ultimate profession, an underpinning of ethics is necessary to be responsible.
Teachers are especially grounded in ethics. Education programs include healthy doses of ethics as part of the training.
Better communication/public relations programs include ethics as well. Towson’s PR Track includes a strong course in ethics. But beyond that one course, ethics is a subject taught in every one of my classes. In this time of heightened scrutiny of organizations due to such highly-publicized situations as the Enron and Worldcom scandals, to name just two, an ethical underpinning is critical to organizational success. No organization can have good PR in the absence of ethical business practice.
Where does it start? Where does an ethical perspective come from? Simply enough, I think the old saying, “if it is to be, then it begins with me,” fits nicely here. The college years are a great time for a future communication/PR practitioner or educator to form a personal ethical code.
John Dalla Costa said “to be ethical is first and foremost a choice.” Once this choice is made, a communicator/PR practitioner who chooses to practice ethically can look to IABC and PRSA for codes of ethics that will provide detailed guidance.
The same is true for educators. Codes of ethics are readily available from a variety of sources, including school boards. As a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for education, I have a network of top educators for advice and counsel plus many professional development opportunities.
But while there is a wealth of external guidance for ethics, I believe that adopting a personal code begins with an examination of who we are and what we believe. Much of this — if not all — is shaped by our own life experiences. Sometimes we must overcome early programming to behave ethically as adults. This requires reflection and self-examination. To practice ethically as a communication/PR professional or an educator, we must understand our own motivations and predispositions in order to challenge them if they interfere with our being able to act ethically.
Growing up is hard work, no matter what age we are. After much reflection, the underpinning of my own ethical code is simply this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
To me, the Golden Rule is the golden key to living successfully, fully, and ethically.