My search for material to provide continuing education credits in ethics led me to this truly remarkable book, Ethics (for the Real World): Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisions in Work and Life by Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver. Having been frustrated and bored to tears while previously grinding through an ethics class or text, I found this book refreshingly welcome. It started with the thought that ethics for business or financial decisions must come from a personally developed code and offers not a “supposed to” but a “how to” in the personal creation of ethics.

What I found unique about this book is that the structure is not a series of clear cut examples of what to do, but rather a series of anecdotes that are referenced several times providing the reader a familiar set of examples to utilize as questions are posed and allowing for the formation of the reader’s own code.

The book dispelled the notion that all ethical decisions are lofty, philosophical, weighted verdicts that create profound consequences. We are confronted daily with ethical choices and dilemmas. We are often unaware that we are actually making ethical decisions. For example; I was five minutes late to work but no one else is here yet, so I’ll just mark my timecard as on time. Everyday decisions that seem trivial serve as the building blocks for the more challenging ethical dilemmas to come.

The book continued with why it’s necessary to develop a code of ethics. The authors then proceeded with showing the reader how to go about developing this code. The authors’ help sort through the minutia of topics such as the difference between morals and ethics, which in turn is thought provoking and personally challenging.

The authors broke down the ethical code into three categories; Deception, Stealing, and Harming. Simple exercises at the end of chapters build upon each other to create a very clear path. However, just as a reader thinks they’ve nailed it, an example elaborating on a previously referenced story throws the proverbial monkey wrench into the code generated by the practical exercises. The authors succeeded at using examples that were not confusing, but were relevant and real historic reflections making them easily relatable.

One of the most profound examples started with the ethical decision to never tell a lie. This line in the sand seemed simple, easy to uphold, and basic. First, a future sonin-law eating rhubarb pie prepared by his future mother-in-law told her he enjoyed this dessert. Secretly he hates rhubarb. Seems innocent enough, but now this polite white lie will haunt him for the duration of his marriage as she prepares this “special” pie upon every visit he makes to her home. Should he have politely explained his dislike, and therefore prevented the future consequence?

The authors’ second challenge was a nurse in an Alzheimer’s unit who encountered a patient who asked about her dead husband. The nurse knew the husband had been deceased for several years. She gently informed the patient  only to witness the patient’s comprehension of this “news” as if it was the first time she had heard it, which elicited a grievous response. The patient’s query will likely occur again in the future. Does the nurse stick to her ethical principle to tell no lie, or does she lie to prevent the reoccurrence of a grievous response? Not so simple now is it?

Again, it is crucial to note that there are no right or wrong answers given by the authors to these questions, simply moments of personal contemplation allowed with direction given to formulate one’s own conclusion.

Starting with a personal reflection allows for a more thoroughly considered decision to be made. Having a personal and then, eventually, a professional code of ethics formulated should not allow for judgment of those who have not chosen this step, it simply allows for decisions to be made that are sound and consistent with the practitioner’s own principles. The authors stressed that it is essential to have a personal code prior to a professional code of ethics.

Heather Baker is a military spouse who has worked with military families in many capacities. She completed a FINRA Military Spouse Fellowship and became an AFC. Baker was the Branch Director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Butte, Montana, eventually working as the State Area Director of Financial Literacy Education.. Baker currently works as an intern for AFCPE after completing her tenure as Associate Director of the Fort Hood Area Habitat for Humanity.

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