It feels so simple to say, “I am an ethical person”. And, in
fact, by far the most people are ethical. The question, however, is how far
I will go to defend my ethical values and beliefs when the consequences of
doing so, could be dire, if not fatal…
Sometimes standing up for one’s beliefs can have remarkable consequences, as was evident in the case study about the Uber scandals occurring in 2017, where a single blog post by former employee Susan Fowler led to a string of scandalous revelations involving senior executives and other personnel at the company, followed by an even longer list of dishonourable discharges and resignations. In that case, a positive outcome resulted, although it was not easy for Ms. Fowler to make these revelations! It was, in fact, a gamble – one that could have ruined her entire life (even further). But something good came of it all, and the company is better off without those who transgressed.
Moving closer to home and looking at the recently concluded investigations into corruption and state capture by the Zondo Commission, the South African media has reported alleged death threats, murders, ‘questionable’ accidents, and more relating to several witnesses involved in the inquiry. The media reported about whistleblowers losing their lives and the lack of protection available for someone who takes a stand against corruption and crime in South Africa. This is enough to make the ordinary citizen think twice before speaking up against what seems to be an overpowering evil force. Just one example of how difficult it could be for the truth to be revealed, and exactly how high the price could be to pay for speaking it!
In the CPD live event hosted by Dr Simoné van Helsdingen on 7 April 2022, it was quite evident that good people can also do bad things. The harsh reality is that we get just one chance to decide between right and wrong. I found it very interesting that two factors influence our decisions, being our character (i.e., our integrity, values, morals, principles, beliefs, etc.) and our external environment. Certain external factors could impair our ability to make the right decision, such as an ethically volatile working environment. The question is, “who do we surround ourselves with?”. We certainly are known by the company we keep, right?
The other aspect that stood out to me was that unethical behaviour does not only exist in the events revealed at commissions of inquiry, where entire states are captured by those with money, but also in the small things that you and I do every day. The auditor that ‘overlooks’ a personal expense that should not have been processed in the company’s records. The small lie we tell about our children’s ages to qualify for an additional discount when booking accommodation. The way we make racist, sexist, sexual, and other remarks about other human beings where we feel “safe” to do so. Completing my child’s school assignment for her, so that she can obtain a higher mark at school – in the name of good parenting, of course. How professionally we speak to our clients on the phone but swear at other drivers on the road when driving home. How we treat the waiter at the restaurant, or the air hostess in the plane, both of whom were born to serve me hand and foot, right?
My fear is that the concept of ethical behaviour becomes desensitized. Instead of small talk about the early cold weather in 2022, we speak about the moral decay of our society at most social events and our concern about the fact that there appears to be no consequences for those transgressing with arrogance and pride! To an extent, we have made peace with the fact that our country and society have become corrupt, and there is not much we can do about it. The saying, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” comes to mind for sure!
In conclusion, I believe that being ethical is a choice. Ethical behaviour is as important in the small things as in the big ones. Ethical behaviour is as important when no-one is watching, as when someone is. Ethical behaviour is as important when in a position of power, as when in a position of little. Ethical behaviour is a choice. Our nation needs people that CHOOSE to be, and remain, ethical at all cost under all circumstances! And we need to honour and protect those that have stood up and chosen to be ethical!