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Ethics is simplicity

About forty years ago the Alabama Legislature passed an ethics reform act, established an Ethics Commission, and hired Prattville's Melvin Cooper as the State's first Ethics Commissioner.

Over the years Mr. Cooper did a masterful job of infusing the ethics concept into State government, but politics, government service, and ethics don't always mix well.

Fast forward to the present day, and we find Mr. Cooper, as a member of the Alabama Silver-Haired Legislature, writing a resolution for that body requesting that the Governor and the Legislature revive ethics reform in the State. It took a couple of years, but such an auspicious goal came about, and Ethics Reform has reared its ugly head again in our State.

But the big question four decades ago, and again, two years ago, and has been for centuries is: Just what is ethics; and can it be legislated?

Socrates toyed with the concept some 400 years before Jesus of Nazareth took a crack at the concept that basically deals with human nature and the difference between right and wrong.

Socrates saw ethical behavior having as its goal the greatest good. Man should behave himself in such a manner as serves the greatest good, he philosophized.

Ethics and morals go hand in hand. Ethical behavior is moral behavior. Man should conduct himself in a moral manner; behaving in such a way as to serve the greatest good. Socrates urged his fellow man to: “Know thyself.” He went on to say that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Or, as we learned as children: “Think before you act.” We learned to ask ourselves if what we were doing; or were about to do, was the right thing to do.

The stoic philosopher Epictetus, who lived a century before Christ walked among men, believed that man should live a life worth living.

And great thinkers throughout man's existence on Earth have approached ethical behavior from a number of directions, but virtually all have come to the same conclusion: Man should live his life in the manner he would expect of others. Do unto others. . . and that sort of thing.

At first glance we might think of ethics as some sort of complex abstraction; when in fact it is simplicity in its finest form.

As Sociologist Raymond Baumhart learned in our lifetime: Ethics has to do with what a person's feelings tell him is right, as opposed to what is wrong. Our religion, regardless of denomination, tells us that ethics involves knowing right from wrong, and choosing the path of correctness over expediency.

Yet, ethics has nothing to do with religion. An Atheist can be as ethical in the way he or she conducts life as a Baptist or an Episcopalian. Ethics consists of adhering to the standards of behavior our society accepts.

Yet, ethics is not following the law, it is not doing whatever society accepts. Ethical behavior

involves how we conduct ourselves as human beings; it involves doing what is right, what is moral. In the Fifth Century BC, the Greek Philosopher Hippocrates summed ethics up as well as anyone: Do no wrong. And this beacon has guided the medical profession in its healing objective.

So, we may conclude that ethics involves doing what is right; not what is expedient, or what others tell us to do, or what everyone else is doing.

Being ethical involves doing right; and doing right is being ethical.

Now isn't that simple?


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