Chapter 1: Ethical Behaviour

1.1 The Importance of Ethical Behaviour

For citizens, even for those of us with no aspirations in a career in law enforcement, morality and integrity are important characteristics to demonstrate. We instinctively know that it is good to be moral and act with integrity, but by coming to an understanding of the reasons for morality and integrity, we will be motivated to champion such behaviour. Among the reasons to be moral and integral, regardless of occupation are to:

  • Make society better. When we help make society better, we are rewarded with also making better own lives and the lives of our families and friends. Without moral conduct, society would be a miserable place.
  • Treat everyone equally. Equality is a cornerstone of most Western democracies, where all individuals are afforded the same rights. This is not possible without the majority of citizens behaving in a moral manner.
  •  Secure meaningful employment. Often employers will look at a person’ past behaviour as a predictor of future behaviour. Someone who has a history of immoral behaviour will have difficulty securing employment in a meaningful job, as that person may not be trusted.
  •  Succeed at business. If you are employed in an occupation in which there you must rely on others, your moral conduct will determine the degree of goodwill that you receive from others. Businesses that have a checkered moral history are typically viewed with caution and are unlikely to attract new customers through word of mouth, and therefore are unlikely to prosper. This is especially the case where social media ­­makes customer reviews readily accessible.
  •  Lessen stress. When we make immoral decisions, we tend to feel  uncomfortable and concerned about our decision making. Making the right moral decision, or taking a principled perspective on an issue, reduces stress.

Ultimately, ethics is important not so that “we can understand” philosophically, but rather so we can “improve how we live” (Lafollette, 2007). By being moral, we enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. It’s especially important to live a moral life when we are young, as it is helpful to exercise and practise these concepts before being confronted with more complex issues. Lafollette (2007) theorizes that ethics is like most everything else that we strive to be good at; it requires practice and effort. Practising and making an effort to make moral decisions throughout life will pay dividends when we are faced with serious moral dilemmas. Furthermore, having insight into “…historical, political, economic, sociological and psychological insights…” (Lafollette, 2007, p.7) allows us, as decision makers, to make more informed decisions, which will likely result in moral decisions. In sum, the practice of being moral, allows us to work on these skills, so when we are faced with real situations that impact others, we are ready

Lafollette (2007) also emphasizes the need to understand and develop our virtues. Knowing that we ought to behave in a certain way, yet missing an opportunity to exercise moral behaviour, is an indication of the need to “sharpen moral vision.” For example we know that we ought to stay in good physical shape but often do not. This illustrates the need to be mindful of a virtue (in this case perseverance) that is important and must be developed. If, as people aspiring to become law enforcement officers, we develop the virtue of perseverance by staying in shape, we are more likely to hone that skill when we are working in law enforcement. We will be able to draw on that virtue when needed for even more serious situations, not only in law enforcement, but in other challenges that we may face in life.

Ethics is also important for those citizens who do not aspire to work in law enforcement. Successful business leaders often say that treating people morally is a very important aspect in obtaining success. A person’s reputation is of key importance for a business leader, and if a person’s reputation is damaged by poor ethical conduct, the business will also suffer. The same is true in all walks of life. Where ethics are taken seriously, and people strive to make ethical decisions and actions, personal and professional success follows.

Critics may argue that this attitude is self-serving and that some individuals act ethically only for their own self-interest to be successful or happy. Critics would add that this is not the right reason to be ethical, and therefore is not being truly ethical. A counter argument may be that the action itself can be regarded as ethical, regardless of the reason for taking the action. This perspective focuses more on the end result rather than the means to the end.

How do you know as an individual if you pass the ethics test?

As an individual, you can ask yourself what society would be like if everyone conducted their moral selves like you do. Would society be better or worse? By asking yourself this question, your are really testing the universality of your behaviour. Immanuel Kant, a famous scholar of ethics, suggests we should only act in ways that we would want everyone else in the same situation to act. We should also consider any way that we can improve our moral life to make society better.

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1.1 The Importance of Ethical Behaviour by Steve McCartney and Rick Parent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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