Think back to a job you have had or an organization you have been involved in. Did that company or organization have immoral management, moral management, or amoral management? What characteristics did the management demonstrate to make you classify it the way you did? Also, describe the sources of your own personal values. Where did you learn those values? How important are those values to you? How might your own personal values collide with a company’s values?
This is a series of questions that require the individual student to reflect on his or her past and provide personal history unique that each student. Nobody can provide examples of ethical or unethical behavior that can or should be adopted by another individual. That said, anybody who has held a job or participated in an organization has probably confronted or observed at least one ethical dilemma. This educator witnessed and confronted numerous such dilemmas in over 20 years as a staffer in the United States Congress as well as during my two years as a government contractor. As a senior-level aide responsible for national security affairs for Members of Congress, I was routinely exposed to ethically dubious situations involving government affairs officials from major corporations and from foreign governments attempting to cultivate relationships for information-gathering purposes. Most of these instances were relatively innocuous; some were not. I approached such rubicons from the perspective of one taught to do the right thing. In any event, ethical conundrums are a major part of some professions, and how we respond when placed in an ethically questionable situation is a product of the character we bring to our jobs. The most ethical employer I had on Capitol Hill had been implicated in a scandal, unfairly, and responded to that event by compelling his staff to abide by a strict code of conduct that precluded inappropriate activities. The challenge, however, remained, as certain jobs are immersed in environments in which ethical dilemmas are inevitable.
Any student contemplating past instances of ethical, unethical, or amoral conduct needs to be honest in conveying the details of such instances in an academic environment. Unethical behavior is not necessarily illegal; business activities often force employees to approach and even cross ethical boundaries. The stakes may be trivial, as when a salesman fails to convey all possible information regarding a product or service to a potential customer – the old “used car” phenomenon, for example – or it can involve very serious ramifications, as when an unethical surgeon recommends surgery when he or she knows that nonsurgical procedures are better suited to the situation. The more difficult category involves amoral behavior – behavior that is not necessarily unethical, but is certainly not ethical. As a foreign policy advisor, I frequently criticized colleagues from Southeast Asian countries during the 1990s who argued that their governments’ policies of uncritical neutrality with regard to the brutal dictatorship in the neighboring nation of Burma/Myanmar was amoral and in appropriate given the scale of suffering citizens of Burma were enduring.
As to influential figures in a student’s life with respect to ethical conduct, one should consider parental teachings and the roles of teaches and clergy in setting a positive example and in advocating on behalf of an ethical code of conduct. My personal values were heavily influenced by my parents and grandparents, who taught me to act in an ethical manner, and by a small handful of teachers and professors who demonstrated by word and deed the importance of an ethical approach to life’s challenges.