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I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately…letters to the editor, blog posts, online comments…about the importance of ethics in life…in business…in public relations.
It’s a topic that my undergraduate Communication (and Management) students at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations concentration and teach most of the PR courses, as well as my graduate students at Regis College, where I teach courses in the Organizational and Professional Communication program, hear almost daily.
Although some folks like to wax eloquent on the “deeper meanings” and stuff of the term, I tend to be pretty pragmatic and realistic.
“Do the right thing”…for society, for your organization, for those who have an interest in your organization, and for yourself.
We have a Code of Ethics that I embraced when I joined PRSA back in 1981. The Code provides clear guidelines on what constitutes “good” public relations practice, covering interactions with the client/employer, the media, and the many publics (stakeholders) who have an interest in what your client or employer does for a living…and how you, as the public relations “go-to” person, should communicate with them.
Is it easy abiding by these standards? No!
Why? Because not everyone with whom you will come in contact understands or accepts them. For some folks, it’s like Admiral Farragut… “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.”
And that’s ok…in general. You should be focused on the goal…”eyes on the prize.”
But don’t let yourself be tempted to “bend the rules.”
Why? Because I’ve been around and doing this stuff long enough to know that it will come back to haunt you. Don’t know when. Don’t know where. But it will.
Many professional associations (I would encourage you to research the associations representing your area of interest and join the one that best meets your needs) have a Code of Ethics that identifies the actions that should and should not be taken by professionals in that field.
I’ve looked at a number of Codes over the years and, while the language in each is specific to that particular area or industry, the overall message is the same: “Do the right thing.”
But it all ultimately comes back to roost on your shoulders. You will be the one faced with the situation. You will be the one responsible for action. So you will be the one who has to decide whether or not to do what the situation suggests doing.
I know that sounds vague as hell. But ethical challenges don’t come charging in on a mighty steed all dressed in shiny armor. They’re hiding in the closets of your professional life, waiting for you to turn out the lights and start drifting off to sleep. THEN they pounce!
It’s at that moment that you have to make your decision…and you have to be able to justify it, both to yourself and to those to whom you ultimately are responsible…client/employer, media, publics (for those of us in PR).
You have to be able to say, with confidence, “I choose to take this course of action because I believe it’s the right thing to do.”
“It appears to me that in Ethics, as in all other philosophical studies, the difficulties and disagreements, of which history is full, are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely to the attempt to answer questions, without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer.” – George Edward Moore, “Principia Ethica , preface