This year I faced a challenge when someone asked me to do something I felt was illegal. It was not a big deal, but the fact that it was illegal and unethical made me uncomfortable. It was a tense situation, and in the end I was happy with how I reacted which was to say that the request made me uncomfortable and I wanted to research more before following through with the request. The individual was not happy with me, and when I did research the situation, I found a way to comply that satisfied the individual and was legal too. Again, this was not a big and dangerous request, but it was a request that challenged my ethics.
In every work place and personal sphere, there will be legal and ethical challenges, and how we face those challenges matters a lot. There are ways to handle this well including the following:
- Be aware of the protocols, laws, and ethics that lead your professional work and personal life--know what is expected and what is right.
- When your ethics are challenged, you can always say, "I am uncomfortable with this. I need to do some research to understand this better." Then do the research and find out what is legal, ethical, and right.
- Though questioning is often not welcome, you have to question when you don't understand. For example I faced a problematic situation which I felt was unethical and potentially illegal. I reached out with questions. The questions were not welcome, and I have still not heard the answers, but I am happy that I asked since I don't understand why the situation was acceptable or allowed to happen. I may not understand the full scope of the situation, and when my questions are answered, it's likely I'll understand the situation better and be able to judge with greater clarity and understanding.
- When we question potentially unethical and illegal activity, we don't only help ourselves to do what is right, but we help others too. In every family and organization, it's imperative that we help each other to do what is right and good.
It is important to do your work and live your life within the legal, ethical, and humane boundaries of what it is that you do. Sometimes this is very easy to do as the boundaries are clear to all, and sometimes this is more difficult when the boundaries are interpreted differently.
Recently a friend told me about a situation where she faced an ethical dilemma. The people who she was working with deviated from the job into a discussion that was dehumanizing and unprofessional. My friend spoke up, and her words were heard. She not only made an uncomfortable and unethical discussion become comfortable and ethical, but she also was able to teach several colleagues about what was ethical and right in the situation in a non threatening, positive, and profitable way. It wasn't that the colleagues were trying to be dehumanizing, but it was that they didn't know better.
We will continually face challenges in our professional and personal lives, challenges that make us think deeply about who we are, what we believe in, and what is ethical behavior. Sometimes when we choose the right path, we will be demeaned and ridiculed as others may not see it with the experience or knowledge that we see the situation with. There will be times when we are the ones that don't understand too, and that's why it's important that we welcome conversation, discussion, and debate about what is right and wrong. That helps all of us to learn, do good work, and live well together.
Challenges wake us up. Challenges make us think deeply and carefully about who we are and what we do. Challenges when embraced help us to grow and do better in both our professional and personal lives.