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Ethics Every Day

With an onslaught of reports of corruption, cheating scandals, inappropriate acts by corporate executives, politicians, and actors, and deaths caused by malfunctioning equipment and unsafe conditions—even after companies are made aware of them, it seems only appropriate that PRSA has chosen Ethics Every Day as this year’s theme for Ethics Month.

As PR practitioners, our job is to help the leadership of organizations which we represent or in which we are employed, make better decisions, guiding management to be fair, behave responsibly and act in ways that merit trust.

Studies show that most individuals want to be ethical, and many think they are. The problem is the stumbling blocks that get in the way—the justifications for not doing the right thing: “My behavior won’t make a difference,” “No one will find out,” “That route is more expensive,” etc.

No organization touts ethics like Rotary. Their four-way test is more than a mantra. The four questions that were written in 1943 and cited at Rotary meetings around the world should be the same questions we ask ourselves daily.

First: Is it the TRUTH?
Second: Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Fourth: Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned

Author, Thomas Shanks of the Markkula Center for Ethics suggests what he calls the five-question/systematic approach in which he poses these ideals:

  • Did I practice my virtues today? Virtues, by the way, are the habits of the heart taught by our parents, relatives, teachers, and role models. They are the best parts of ourselves. Put another way: Was I a person who showed integrity, trustworthiness, honesty, compassion, or any of the other virtues I was taught as a child?

  • Did I do more good than harm today?

  • Did I treat people with dignity and respect today?

  • Was I fair and just today?

  • Was my community or my organization better because of me?

While Rotary’s Four-Way Test and Shanks’ Systematic Approach to Ethics provide a base, we must develop our personal code of ethics. As for our role as PR practitioners, I suggest you start with PRSA’s Code of Ethics which is central to our profession. Here you will find principles and guidelines that uphold the core values of the ethical practice of public relations, including advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development, and objectivity.

As we celebrate Ethics Month this September, it’s important to remember that applying your ethical principles must be deliberate and a continuous focus throughout the year.

Acting ethically can be demanding at times, but as Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. said, “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

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