What is a personal ethics statement?

Expert Answers
Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To put it simply, "ethics" are the moral codes by which people live their lives. More than just knowing right from wrong, a "personal" ethics statement asks you to reflect on how you treat other people in the world, from family members, to friends, to complete strangers. 

It might be harder than it sounds. As Socrates says, "An unexamined life is not worth living." But examining precisely what motivates your actions can be daunting. Here are a few steps and suggestions to help get you going.

First, brainstorm. What sorts of behaviors do you find to be ethical, that is, honest and trustworthy actions? Ethical behavior is often described as doing the right thing even when no one is looking or when wrong action will not be discovered. Maybe it is not cheating on a test when you had an opportunity, or returning a wallet that no one knew you had found; maybe it is seeing a student stand up to a bully, or reporting sexual harassment. Don't worry about a formal presentation right now, just jot down anything that comes to you. 

Categorize all the behaviors you brainstormed, for example, all ideas about honesty, integrity, trust. You might look for quotes about these broad ideas. See which ones resonate with you. Here are a couple examples to get you started: 

"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." Polonius in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”  - Mahatma Gandhi 

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” - Albert Camus

I would also recommend listening to several stories from the wonderful and long running NPR series, "This I Believe." A few of my favorite stories are:

"Be Cool to the Pizza Delivery Dude" by Sarah Adams

"There is Such a Thing as Truth" by Errol Morris

"Failure is a Good Thing" by Jon Carroll

After you have brainstormed, try writing a few sentences. A good way to begin, just like the NPR statements, is to say "I believe in ______________." Find solid examples in your own life that proves these statements have value in your life. If you can't do so, it probably isn't really a belief, or an ethics statement. 

Most personal ethics statements are about five hundred words or two minutes long read aloud. Check your statement carefully for grammatical correctness. If you are asked to read it in front of classmates or colleagues, be sure to practice it aloud several times. Dogs make a great audience! :)  Good luck.