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CHICAGO — As I have been a resident of Chicago for the past nine years or so, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s recent alleged attempt to sell President-Elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat has prompted me to speak this month on ethics.Ethics by definition is the study or evaluation of human conduct in the light of moral principles. These principles may be viewed either as a standard of conduct that individuals have created or as a body of obligations and duties that are prescribed externally.
As one who used to and still teaches and preaches ethics in the federal workplace, I may be deemed over- or underqualified on this subject. Ethics develop as people reflect on the intentions behind and consequences of certain acts.
In my time with the Department of Veterans Affairs, I had the privilege to sit on its contract debarment committee, which evaluated the auditing of various government contractors and made recommendations on penalties and suspensions depending on the complexity of violations.
In many cases, the penalties were handed down for administrative errors made on the part of a contractor. However, there were a few instances where ethical violations of conduct were an issue. For some reason, no matter who they are, people will do anything to make themselves look good, even if, in most cases, these actions aren’t necessary.
We have all heard the term “pay to play.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that you get money to make something happen; it means that if even the perception exists that you can’t make a sale or obtain a contract or achieve some goal, and it’s supported by an external element — not part of the normal process — then you’ve made an error in judgment.
You may think that no one will pick up on this kind of deception, and in many cases, you’ll be correct, but sooner or later, you have to look in that mirror — or face the contractor who didn’t get the job or others in the organization who were deemed successful without being part of the process.
What do you really think they think of you — a good guy who got them a contract because he was swayed by external forces, or someone who was honest through the process, showing no favorites?
As I have written through the previous year, honesty with one’s self is the goal we must all set for ourselves. We all need to view the external forces that make us tick, and we must learn to control those forces.
Ethics is a confusing subject. All organizations should have a policy on ethics with applicable do’s and don’ts as part of their human resources program. The absence of such a policy will cause much confusion among employees. Proper ethics involves how we communicate and how we treat others.
Ethical problems revolve around the question of absolute good as opposed to relative good.
No matter how you feel about the subject of ethics, one thing is for sure: The absence of honesty/ethics in the work or home environment will not only destroy your organization and you professionally, but it will also have a similar impact on those who really care about you.
People around you notice who and what you really are — don’t disgrace yourself or your organization by being foolish and selfish.
I wish a happy New Year to everyone.