Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free ...Read More
Maybe you failed to correct a clerk who gave you more change than you were supposed to get. Or maybe you got away with a short cut at work in just a small way.
If you’re like most people you have slipped in some small way, such as by ignoring the truth to protect a friend, gossiping in a way that you know is hurtful, telling a small lie, despite a gut feeling telling you it’s wrong or doing as you were told by someone in authority, even though you knew it was wrong.
Ethics often begin to slip in the smallest of ways. And because of this, we might wonder, is anyone immune to making ethical slips? In a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor and an interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Courtney Martin suggests the answer is “no.” Anyone’s ethics can slip.
We’ve certainly seen ethical slips in the news amongst athletes, politicians and business leaders. It may not be a stretch to imagine that the adage “power corrupts” is accurate.
People in power face temptations that may be difficult to resist. And when you’re powerful, small slips can lead to big ethical lapses, including fraud, betraying loved ones, using performance enhancing drugs and more.
But what about those people who don’t hold positions of power? The reality is that all of us have opportunities to cheat, lie or otherwise compromise our morals and that each of us, at one time or another, has probably done just that.
So how much do these ethical slips matter? Neil Conan suggests, on Talk of the Nation, that with time we can get used to these ethical gray areas. And, rather than reacting to ethical violations with outrage or concern, transgressions only register in a very slight way.
It’s easy to judge others, who are caught behaving unethically. But can you admit to the ways in which you might have, little by little, adjusted your own moral compass?
And if you have slipped from your sense of what is right, how do you reclaim your conscience?
Maybe there is no one ‘right’ way. In her article, Martin suggests self-reflection and connecting with honest friends can help us remain ethical.
Being surrounded by others, making similar ethical transgressions, and having little time to stop and think can desensitize you and contribute to you losing your way.
Our fast paced culture, constant interruptions and long working hours can interfere with our ability to disconnect from situations where we might be slipping, argues Martin.
When we take the time to honestly reflect, through activities such as prayer, meditation or a morning walk, we are less able to live with ethical slips and more likely to behave ethically, she says.
Martin suggests that reflection, in combination with good friends who will give you honest feedback, even about difficult subjects, helps us to stay on track or to adjust course, when we’ve strayed.