In law school, I studied professional responsibility and jurisprudence (philosophy of law), but those classes were just side notes. Most of us were more interested in learning how to cover our tails than in pondering deeper moral issues. We had exams to take and resumes to create. Most of us weren’t ready to contemplate the long-term implications of our actions.
During a summer internship, I sat in on a mediation that involved a conflict created by an attorney who was seeking to benefit financially from a “mistake” he’d made in drafting a contract decades earlier. I was horrified. When he walked away with $18,000 to which he was clearly not entitled, I became interested in deeper moral issues.
Instead of practicing law, I ended up working as an editor and communication director. I recently taught an adjunct university course in business ethics, which motivated me to go back to school to earn my master’s degree so I could teach additional business courses such as marketing and business communication.
I was surprised by statistics indicating that business practitioners are the lowest of the low when it comes to ethical awareness and standards. Apparently, they have lower moral awareness than attorneys or physicians, so I’m theoretically taking a step down. That perception bothers me.
Is it just because business attracts that kind of individual? Are business students programmed to make a profit at all costs? How early is too early to consider ethical questions—and how late is too late?
I’m interested in changing the trajectory. I believe business can and should be done ethically and responsibly. I try to pass that vision on to my students. Maybe one of them will take the higher road and change his or her corner of the business world.