Silence – Ethics’ Enemy


Yellow-Road-Sign-Saying-Danger-Wrong-Way-Turn-Back    I have been silent for sometime; attending to my own affairs and coping with the death of my mother. Sometimes we need silence. Perhaps a chance to catch up or an opportunity to think. Indeed, in our noisy, information saturated world, silence can be a pleasure; a luxury we should seize with both hands.

But silence can be bad too. In the field of ethics and ethical behaviour, silence is the greatest enemy.  Furthermore, everyone can succumb to it on occasion.

Most professionals see themselves as ethical, principled individuals. We strive to carry out our roles in an inclusive fashion, respecting others, objectively giving judgements, weighing the evidence and acting the best interests of our client. We do not set out to harm others. However, have you stopped to think “Is that the whole story?”.

Not doing something is as unethical as engaging in a wrongful act. So standing up and saying something when there is wrong behaviour – when others keep quiet and turn a blind eye – is an ethical imperative. This is regardless of the consequences for ourselves. Just knowing the Code of Conduct is not sufficient. If you wish to be ethical (and it is a choice) then the professional must have the courage to say and do the right things. To paraphrase JFK, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

For example, Outcome 10.4 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2011 requires a solicitor to:

“… report to the SRA promptly, serious misconduct by any person or firm authorised by the SRA, or any employee, manager or owner of any such firm (taking into account, where necessary, your duty of confidentiality to your client);”

How many do that – not in connection with an adversary who hacked us off, but reporting a colleague we work alongside? Perhaps they are not competent to do a piece of work (Outcome 1.4 – “you have the resources, skills and procedures to carry out your clients’ instructions”) or they engage in discriminatory behaviour by making inappropriate remarks (a breach of Chapter 2).

So in the world of practical ethics, silence in the face of wrongful or criminal behaviour is not an option. Positive action is required. Such steps are tough and require courage. We all face such dilemmas from time to time. So why is silence still an attractive option?

In my next blog, I will look at reasons why we may choose to act unethically.

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