According to an article on msnbc.com, Chesley Sullenberger contacted his local library to ask for an extension and waiver of overdue fees because the book he borrowed from them was left in the cargo hold of the jet he landed in the Hudson River several weeks ago. The librarians told reporters they were impressed with his sense of responsibility, waived all fees, and dedicated a replacement book in his honor. The subject of the book Sullenberger left on the plane was “Professional ethics.”
Unfortunately, there are few situations that have such clear cut prescriptions for how to behave ethically. Most of the time we’re faced with messy circumstances that contain multiple nuances. The right answer is often wedged between a rock and a hard place.
While policy manuals and ethics officers can help, they’re no substitute for personal accountability. Ultimately, each of us must be clear about our own values, how we interpret circumstances, and where we will draw the line when faced with demands that aren’t in line with our standards.
The more ingrained these personal values are, the less we need to rely upon policy manuals and ethics officers, even when faced with messy and extreme circumstances. Just ask Chesley Sullenberger.