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The Great Divide–Ethics Codes & Unethical Behavior May 30, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Education, ethical decision making, ethics codes, Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness.
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Really, does one need a formal ethics code to restrain a person from unwarranted and non-consensual sexual behavior visited upon another? Does an ethics code in the work place inhibit an employee from cheating on his/her spouse? (Or even inhibit supporting dueling pregnancies or running for president in the midst of marital infidelity?)  Is a “close relationship” with a subordinate at work only a “potential” conflict of interest?  Please, someone enlighten me!

While today’s New York Times article on the International Monetary Fund does provide insight into the two tiered system of ethics codes and enforcement systems within that organization, it really does not provide any enlightenment into the impact of those codes on human behavior. Nor does it note the distinction between unethical behavior in ones professional life and personal life–although some would argue that this is a distinction without a difference.  However, think inappropriate gifting to impact government decision-making or sexual harassment on the job as professional life settings and infidelity occurring outside of the workplace as personal.

Clearly the New York Times did not seek to explore the psychological underpinnings of human behavior in today’s article;  it is simply reporting upon and providing insight into the inner-workings of the  ethics codes and enforcement at the IMF. The impetus for the article is the recent resignation of the IMF Managing Director,“Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who denies the charges, has resigned his position at the fund.”

It just seems that there is a disconnect between whatever flaws there may be in the IMF ethics procedures and the alleged behavior of its Managing Director.  One has to wonder whether a more  transparent ethics procedure equipped with greater sanctions would really deter an alleged sexual assault. [We have criminal statutes that certainly do not deter individuals from criminal conduct, including sexual assault,–certainly one may argue that engaging in criminal behavior is generally unethical–although that is a much larger topic.]

So, what’s the point?  The point is that as a society we need to encourage a culture of ethical behavior and develop a consensus as to whether there is some behavior, conducted in a personal or professional setting, that reflects such a lack of judgement as to disqualify the individual from certain positions in society.  It is an evolving process–one that is aided by ethics codes that guide and create the minimum standards of conduct that we require in a particular setting.  However, until we further understand and address the psychological underpinnings of  decision-making and the role of ethics in the actual moment of the decision, ethics codes, such as the one that exists at IMF, will probably have little impact on behavior such as the alleged sexual assault and resignation of its Managing Director.

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