Ethics: Doing the right thing

F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- Do the right thing, or do not do the right thing? That is the question facing us each and every day, which becomes the barometer of our ethics.

Sometimes in our busy daily lives, we congregate among our friends, families, peers and our leaders or subordinates, and we ask them for their opinion on a subject in the forefront of our thinking. We may already have an opinion formed and sometimes we are bouncing it off of other people to get their response or assurance. But, one subject rarely talked about is ethics.

A standard definition of ethics is: "The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy. The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession." Right about now, the eyes are rolling in the back of many heads as a defense mechanism because most people never discuss ethics. To make the shortest possible definition for ethics, how about: "Doing the right thing."

How many times have you seen a person "stretch" the hat requirement, glove requirement or just the rules set by society? Take the stop sign at most intersections; it is not a suggestion but a rule to protect you. Yet we see people running stop signs, rolling through them and possibly presenting danger to everyone else on the road or walking.

In the military, we have many rules and regulations designed to assist us in completing the mission. No one wants anyone who is in a position of authority to take shortcuts and not follow the rules - possibly endangering someone. As a new NCO several decades ago, I was told how ethics define an NCO and shape him into a leader. Sometimes, we may have to separate ourselves from other entities who do not share the same ethics. Namely, some of our peers who have not made the next rank. My chief master sergeant told me, "A true friend or peer will never ask you to violate your ethics or ask you to break the law to protect them."

It seems in this day-in-age that we are questioning every aspect of our rules in society and for some, they ignore them completely. Again, laws are not a mere suggestion, and you cannot just ignore them when it suits you. Contrary to popular belief, rules are not made to be broken and there are no "gray areas" when it comes to those rules. Look at this from a different perspective - how do you feel when someone violates the rules and it impacts you? It is much easier to follow the rules than to circumvent them. When you take shortcuts or even break the rules, you have to justify the process in your mind and to others. Would it not be easier to just follow the rules?

I recently watched a police reality show where the individual was seen on video breaking several laws, and when that person was detained and questioned, he boldly stated that he did not violate any of those infractions and when he was shown the video, he did not say another word. Again, would it not have been easier to just follow the rules?

Now, I am not talking about finding better and easier ways to do our jobs. I am talking about the rules, regulations, instructions, guidelines and laws that must be followed every day without question to complete our mission and to live our lives. When we start picking and choosing what laws we follow, our morals, values and ethics are compromised and we start down that slippery slope of right and wrong. Most of us have learned what is right and wrong from our gut-level values that have been instilled in us as children. So, why do we have a problem following the rules now? Nothing feels better than when you "do the right thing" and can hold your head up high. Rather than just complaining about things, start doing the right things and if you feel something needs to be changed, then go about it the right way and use your chain of command and try to fix it.

There is no such thing as a little lie, or a little theft, etc. When something is wrong, it is wrong. A true friend will never ask you to lie, cheat or steal for them. These things are wrong and should never compromise your values or ethics. This is also true for supervisors and commanders. So what are you waiting for? Try "doing the right thing" and you may surprise yourself.