Ethics and Society

Ethics (Greek ethika, from ethos, “character,” “custom”), principles or standards of human conduct, sometimes called morals (Latin mores, “customs”), and, by extension, the study of such principles, sometimes called moral philosophy.

Late in 2001, I mentioned to several S.E.C. members that the Ethics and Arbitration section of the S.E.C. Bylaws were outdated and required revision. I was soon repaid for expressing my opinion. In early 2002, President Corso requested that Mark Johnson and I tackle the job. Neither of us fully envisioned the amount of research work and effort that would have to be expended to overhaul the S.E.C. Ethics and Arbitration Manual.

In reviewing Ethics from a historical and philosophical point of view, our initial journey pointed toward trying to get a grasp on the more worldly view of what Ethics was. Mark and I had none and certainly knew only a few who did (joke here!). Seriously though, what we did discover was a world of wide-ranging ethical perspectives and philosophies. For instance:

  1. Ethics, as a branch of philosophy, is considered a normative science, because it is concerned with norms of human conduct, as distinguished from the formal sciences, such as mathematics and logic, and the empirical sciences, such as chemistry and physics.
  2. The empirical social sciences, however, including psychology, impinge to some extent on the concerns of Ethics in that they study social behavior. For example, the social sciences frequently attempt to determine the relation of particular ethical principles to social behavior and to investigate the cultural conditions that contribute to the formation of such principles.*

In the history of Ethics we found three principal standards of conduct, each of which has been proposed as the highest good. They are:

  1. Happiness or pleasure;
  2. Duty, virtue or obligation; and
  3. Perfection or the fullest harmonious development of human potential.

Depending on the social setting, the authority invoked for good conduct is the will of a deity, the pattern of nature, or the rule of reason.

  1. When the will of a deity is the authority, obedience to the divine commandments in scriptural texts is the accepted standard of conduct.
  2. If the pattern of nature is the authority, conformity to the qualities attributed to human nature is the standard.
  3. When reason rules, behavior is expected to result from rational thought.

Pretty fancy stuff huh? Isn’t it amazing what you can dig up on the Web?1 This is all informative of course, but what does this information have to do with the Society? Hang in there please.

As rational humans we know that norms of personal conduct may be sacred to one person and not to another. We see and experience it all the time. We have yet to meet the person who believes they are unethical. Everyone uses a different yardstick to measure.

But in the Society we’ve come together to define, in unison, how we collectively feel about Ethics. The reason that a body like the Society of Exchange Counselors endeavors to perfect an Ethics standard is to set a benchmark and remove, penalize or correct behavior that differs from the Code of Ethics, and general philosophy subscribed to and accepted by the members of the Society. By doing so we acknowledge a level of ethical behavior and protocol that is above standards set by any other related group.

We don’t mean to be naïve in assuming there will be no differing perspectives on what Society Ethics should be. In addition, it also doesn’t mean that we will never have a disagreement, misconduct or a misunderstanding. The forum for resolution of these differences is provided in the By-Laws and Ethics cannons. We have created and therefore must utilize proper channels for deciding dissenting issues whether in form or substance regarding Society Ethics. By doing so we acknowledge a level of ethical behavior and protocol that is above standards set by any other related group.

Don’t get us wrong. Mark and I are sitting in the pew like everyone else. We were both humbled by the observation that we are all individually responsible for our behavior and actions with each other, the public, guests, and others. This is an evolving study and much may still need to be done. After all the investigating we felt a reverence for the information derived and it’s content. Much of what we learned is woven within the pages of the Ethics and Arbitration Manual. Much was already there, previously derived from the wisdom of our forefathers. We learned that it is not the individual pursuit that dictates our ethics direction, but the pursuit of ethical performance based in large part upon our collective premise and understanding of societal values.

So how do these insights, differing Ethics philosophies and recent events affect our S.E.C. world? To some extent “intent” plays a large part. We all recognize that sometimes, good intent produces unwanted results. In essence, all make mistakes. Nonetheless, Societal Ethics is, in appropriate measure, predicated upon what the Dali Lama calls “the good heart” and what we refer to as “good intent.” After study and involvement, Mark and I both feel that the Society Ethics and Arbitration Manual is based on this philosophy, but is tempered with appropriate guidelines and consequences for impropriety.

When I first started working on this project I was reminded of the legacy of former S.E.C. Sam Brown. He passed away a number of years ago but was a person of impeccable integrity. Sam was once involved in a situation where an individual owed him money. Conversely, Sam owed the individual money on a separate transaction… The individual stopped paying Sam. (What to do…. eh? Did Sam offset payments? Nope!) He paid his loan on time as stipulated, and eventually retired it. I am not sure how, or if, the other guy made restitution. At first, I thought Sam was nuts. Of course, I was using the wrong yardstick. Sam was principled enough to know that his own inner integrity and ethical behavior could not be compromised by someone else’s actions. He had made a commitment and was determined to complete it. There are other S.E.C. stories we could share, but it would take another lengthy dissertation on this aspect alone.

As a member of the Society of Exchange Counselors (and Candidates) we are, by Bylaw edict, and acceptance to the group, obligated and duty bound to adhere to a higher expectation centered upon the Ethics and principles predicated by the Society. It is therefore incumbent on each of us to take the time to read the Ethics portion of your Bylaws, as recently revised and accepted by the Board of Governors. This is what governs Society conduct and is the soulful cornerstone for the general laws governing the Society.


*This information was derived from a great many sources. We acknowledge and attribute authorship rights to those who will never know I borrowed from them.

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