The Challenge

If there is one certainty in this new millennium it is that boundaries between personal and professional life have become fundamentally blurred; and the values that inform one realm can have a profound impact on the other. A challenge we all face is discovering a path to manage more effectively our personal responsibilities, our business decisions and our professional conduct in this complex environment.

Given the frequency of legislative and regulatory compliance issues, tort liability cases, real and potential conflicts of interest as well as renewed public debate and policy concerns, businesses, governments and professionals are revisiting the necessity for ethical reflection and responsible decision-making. They have come to understand that simply posting standards of conduct, ethics policies or other professional codes does not assure the quality of deliberation required if individuals and organizations are to make good long-range decisions.

What many have assumed is that following the rules should un-problematically resolve most dilemmas we face in our daily business. What this assumption failed to recognize was that codes are only a baseline, guidelines for action that must be weighed very carefully in view of those circumstances where they are applied. In other words, mere compliance is never sufficient in itself and cannot excuse one from exercising the rational deliberation required of any responsible judgment. In fact, an exclusive focus on codes has even been used as a tool of fraud, manipulation and coercion, as we observe in making the common distinction between following the 'letter' vs. the 'spirit' of the law. 

Always the responsibility falls back upon us to decide how to interpret various codes to which we want to adhere, how and in what manner to apply them, and when doing the 'right' thing requires going beyond 'mere compliance' and acting courageously on a foundation of sound judgment. 

In our increasingly litigious society, proliferating regulations, legislation, community standards and codes of conduct can easily mask the legitimate role of tact, courage and intelligence within business and professional practice as well as in public discourse. Too often we replace personal responsibility and integrity, in short, the good life, with 'rationalization', 'doing what is required' and other modes of destructive behavior. To find an ethical path, to effect real progress in the responsible exercise of personal, business and professional decision-making, we need to rediscover the genuine role of rationality, respect and human understanding.