Posted: February 1, 2007 in Education, Ethics


What are ethics? What are my ethics? How did I come to develop my own set of ethics? These are all questions that require deep, meaningful thought and reflection, and are not always easy to answer. A simple definition of ethics is: “a set of principles of right conduct” (, 2005). However, who defines what is right? It seems that an individual ultimately defines ethics, but how does that fit into the big picture of things? Understanding personal ethics requires a look back on where one has come from, and who or what instilled ethical behavior into one’s life. Furthermore, ethics require action and courage to maintain proper conduct. In the end, for ethics to be successful it requires open minded individuals that practice right conduct to work as a team to promote and carry out ethical behavior.

What are Ethics?

If ethics are a set of principles of right conduct it is important to realize that there are many definitions of what is right. However, there is one golden rule that permeates world religions, beliefs, and thought and that is treating others as you would want to be treated. Within the context of human resource development, ethics can be thought of as conscience (Hatcher, 2002, p. 7). Conscience is the idea that human beings have an instilled ability to know right from wrong, or the natural knowledge that we should treat others with respect. Hatcher furthers this idea in that this includes “social and environmental responsibility” (p. 7). Conscience is tied to morals, and a definition of morals is: “arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong” ( Ethics and morals can also be tied to virtues: “a moral excellence and righteousness” ( This right conduct, sense of right and wrong, and moral excellence is developed over time and can be shaped and molded by events, the environment, and other human beings.

My Ethics

My ethics are founded in the teachings of my parents, family, teachers, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and through life experiences. I have been taught and I do believe that I should treat others as I want to be treated. I want to be treated with respect, to be valued as a productive member of society, and I want the world’s environment to be respected too. My ethics are not simply a statement of who I am, but they are active parts of my everyday life. In effect, my ethics are morals and virtues that inevitably influence my conscience and my behavior. If I see injustice I work to make it right. If I feel someone or something is in danger, being hurt, or damaged I take action to prevent or stop it. I also feel a responsibility to continue to learn and seek knowledge that enhances my ethics and exposes me to unethical situations and solutions to these challenges that occur throughout the world. Other human beings and experiences will continue to shape my ethics in positive ways that I cannot now imagine; therefore, I need to keep an open mind to morals or virtues that I will encounter that I can incorporate into my own code of ethics.

Ethics in Action

There are many problems and challenges that exist in the world today. Most I have no immediate power over. However, I believe I can make a difference. Hatcher, in reference to ethics and technology, states: “But even if we cannot think globally, we can act locally” (p. 151). I feel this statement can apply to any unethical situation that exists in the world today and in the future. I can act and change things in my home, with my family, with my middle school students, in my school and district. I can point out injustice and environmental threats in my community and in my state. I can offer and implement solutions, and I can show up and assist in the process of solving or cleaning up a problem. All of this requires a key component in sustaining ethics, and that component is courage.


Rielle Miller, an intern for the Ethics Resource Center, produced a paper called “Moral Courage: Definition and Development” (Miller, 2005). Based on her research, Miller states: “Moral courage is a virtue of will power that acts as a preservative for the other virtues” (Miller, p. 25). Miller feels moral courage has five components:

The first component is the presence and recognition of a moral situation. The second component is moral choice. The courageous individual must appeal to virtue and reason. Once a decision has been made, the individual must act. Behavior is the third component of moral courage. The behavior must follow through with the moral decision. The next component is individuality. Moral courage requires that the individual risk and accept all consequences as an individual. The final component of (her) conception of moral courage is fear. The courageous individual must face fear, but overcome it. Fear cannot impede action. (p. 26)

Ethics, right conduct; morals, the sense of right and wrong; and virtues, moral excellence require individuals to choose, and if the choice is to do right, it requires courage from individuals to act.


Ethics are a set of beliefs of what is the right thing to do. They are guiding principles that protect human beings, the environment, and the world from harm and destruction. When people are unethical they make a choice to do so, they fail to value virtue, and as individuals they impose fear intentionally or unintentionally. It is up to those that are courageous to stop and change unethical people and their behaviors that damage other’s human rights and the environment. As I have been taught and as I have learned, doing the right thing begins and happens with me. With many individuals working toward the same goal, right conduct, it can happen through us: a global society.

References, (2005). Retrieved June 1, 2005, from the Web site

Hatcher, T. (2002). Ethics and HRD. USA: Perseus Publishing.

Miller, R. (2005). Moral Courage: Definition and Development. Retrieved June 1, 2005, from the Ethics Resource Center Web site:


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