As Ethics Officer for PRSA Tampa Bay as well as a frequent participant in/contributor to PRSA BEPS programming, and Ethics Committee Chair for the Global Listening Centre, I try to portray the highest standards of ethical conduct practice and encourage others to do the same.
I also try to convey the importance of ethical thought and action to students who are interested in the public relations career field (and others!), previously at Curry College in Massachusetts, now at The University of Tampa here in sunny Florida.
One thing I try to reinforce is the relatively simple concept that whatever you do or say, someone is paying attention. And they may or may not know a whole lot more about a particular topic that you’re addressing than you do. So, to cut to the chase…be mindful of what you say or do.
Where is this going, Kirk? So glad you asked!
I often talk about…and vividly remember…an occasion waaay back in the day when I was teaching conversational English to Vietnamese military. I had been selected while in Air Force basic training to attend the Defense Language Institute’s English Language School at Lackland Air Force Base where I was stationed. It was a voluntary thing that I thought sounded pretty cool. The result was two tours in Vietnam (1969-1970 and 1971-1972, with a brief one-year assignment back in the U.S. in between).
Anywho…I was teaching basic grammar so that Vietnamese student/soldiers could master the language well enough to come to the U.S. for advanced training in some aspect of their specialty area. Not looking for expertise…just basic familiarity.
Now, to be clear, I was/am NOT a grammar expert. My English degree was a specialty in British literature…NOT grammar.
Obviously, in the course of a semester of teaching, students would ask, on occasion, “Mr. Hazlett, what is that verb form?” Sometimes I would know and would confidently provide the answer.
Other times, I had no clue, but figured that these folks just barely understood what was being taught, so I could make up an answer and no one would know differently.
Until that fateful day…
Sentence is on the chalkboard. Student raises hand and asks, “What is that?”
I look at it and have absolutely no clue. So, using the rationale mentioned earlier, I make up an answer.
Suddenly a quiet voice comes from the back of the classroom. “Excuse me, Mr. Hazlett, but you’re wrong.”
Fifty (FIVE-ZERO) years later, I remember his name…Mr. Phu.
“Oh really, Mr. Phu. What is it, then?”
Mr. Phu then launches into a VERY detailed explanation that I recognize immediately as being absolutely correct.
“Mr. Phu, how did you know that?”
“Before I was drafted into the Army, I was a Professor at the University of Saigon. I have a Ph.D. in French. I also studied English.”
So the takeaway from this is, my friends, is just this. Don’t make statements or take actions assuming that “no one else will know.”
Ethical thought and action means taking into consideration the impact you can have on others either positive or negative. It’s doing the RIGHT thing…not just the CONVENIENT thing.
And…Mr. Phu is paying attention!