A class on ethics was my favorite course in college. We debated issues of race, equality, liberty, gender, religion, and self-government through books like Democracy in America by Alexis deToqueville and Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah. Our weekly writing assignment asked us to raise and answer an ethics question based on our assigned reading. It was an academic exercise but I quickly realized that ethics had real life application. Ethics affected how I treated the staff in the cafeteria when I felt stressed about finals, whether I would accept an upperclassman’s offer to look at last year’s test, how I voted in a highly publicized state senate election (and waited in line for 5 hours!), and what responsibility I had to mend the town-gown relations.
Through this class, I was beginning to understand what Oxford professor C.S. Lewis was talking about when he describes “men without chests” in his book The Abolition of Man. You need something to mediate between one’s intellect and one’s appetites. You need values and you need ethics. I wrote about this in an editorial in my school’s paper my senior year and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
About three months ago, I accepted the role of Chief Ethics Officer for Western Union and I have a new opportunity to engage ethics in a concrete, high-stakes, day-to-day reality to make myself, my team, my company, our industry, and all we work with a more ethical. This comes after 18 years of transactional and employment law practice in an increasingly complex regulatory environment and many ambiguous situations. I’m more realistic than I was in my college days and also more motivated and energized because I’ve witnessed again and again the value of ethics on a personal level and for a company’s performance and growth, in both the short and long term.
What has invigorated me most is my introduction to the people in the ethics community. I am discovering a group of dedicated, fun, collaborative, and progressive professionals and leaders across all industries who have created a network of ethics organizations and communities to teach, challenge, and inspire companies to make ethics part of their DNA. I am greatly benefiting from their work and investment as I join their field. The ethics professionals I am meeting model the principles of trust and integrity they are seeking to internalize in their own companies.
Plus, they’re happy because they know they’re doing meaningful work. Almost daily, headlines around the globe remind us of the financial, reputational, business, societal, and personal costs of lapses in ethics. We are bombarded with stories about what happens when companies forget about ethics and act like they don’t have “chests” to use Lewis’ phrase. And, almost daily, we need to reincorporate ethics into our companies’ culture and reinforce our values to ourselves and to each other in ways that are fresh, practical, simple, and inspiring. It’s a task that’s never done, and that makes it both challenging and rewarding. I’m thankful to Western Union, our leaders, and my coworkers for their tangible and steadfast commitment to ethics and our company’s values. I’m also thankful to have a team of ethics professionals globally as new mentors, guides, colleagues, and friends. You’ve offered me a warm welcome and I’m proud to join your ranks!My Entree Into EthicsClick To Tweet