Ethics – Finding or Defining Its Meaning

ethicsThis is an innocent looking word and is often used as much as the word moral. Ethics can be used as rules of conduct, the principles of an individual, a group or company, a field or profession, and can even be used to chastise somebody. There is a good chance you heard these: work ethics, business ethics, medical ethics, government ethics, religious, cultural, town, dress up, dating ethics?  Etiquette?  I searched on Google and found an article about ethics that started with this.

Some years ago, sociologist Raymond Baumhart asked business people, “What does ethics mean to you?” Among their replies were the following:

“Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong.”
“Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs.”
“Being ethical is doing what the law requires.”
“Ethics consists of the standards of behavior our society accepts.”
“I don’t know what the word means.”

(From “What is Ethics?” Developed by Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, S.J., and Michael J. Meyer, Santa Clara University Studies on Ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)

“I don’t know what the word means.” — I wanted to share this because last night, I was taking my renewal exams on ethics, a required course in Real Estate licensing.  There were eighty pages of required reading on ethics called Realtors Ethics. As a good student I went through all the pages that included articles and practices and I notice that they kept amending them, until it got to a point where it said one thing, and later said another.

“What, I can do that?  Wait, I can’t do that?” I was getting tired of studying and anxious because I needed to take the exam before my license expired. Finally I had enough, and jumped into the exam, which would declare if I was “ethical”. If I failed, the state could say I did not have any ethics and deny my license.

Reading through the exam, I knew I would not pass it. It was only fifteen questions but that is worse than forty questions! With forty questions it would be more like life, mistakes may be made and the ethical choices are usually grey, but with fifteen, there was no room for mistakes; every answer determined my future, each ethical choice morbidly huge. I took a deep breath, reminded myself I’ve been in the business for 32 years and I did my best to adhere to my own ethical rules. Trusting myself, I finished the exam and I clicked my mouse and my result. One Hundred Percent!

What happened, I thought, there must be a glitch in the system. If I were to pass I would be happy with just seventy percent. Then I thought, these exams were designed to test the average, they know how to test, and they have done this for as long as the Ethics Exam existed. Thanks to my Ethos, and thanks to my own personal ethics, I took the exam with the attitude of “I don’t know what the word really means,” but I will be fine by just being me…