What Happened to Common Courtesy and Business Ethics?
September 24, 2014

What Happened to Common Courtesy and Business Ethics?

Do The Right Thing

Last month J.O. attended a PRSA presentation on Defamation and Invasion of Privacy. This month's presentation topic was the Public Relations Code of Ethics. Both topics got our wheels turning, spurring conversations about basic common and professional courtesy and the changing standards of both. How can we maintain our integrity when society is lowering its standards of what is acceptable?

Social Media is the most casual form of public relations. That doesn't mean we should be casual in our level of professionalism, even as it becomes more acceptable on our personal pages.

I am sometimes compelled to comment on a hot button post in my personal news feed, try as I might to fight that impulse. I won't argue politics, religion or social issues on social media but I do make comments to try and say, "Argue if you must, but let's play fair." If people are nice I get an "Aw. Come here and let me pat you on the head, you poor, naive soul" type response. But usually people aren't nice and I get blatant condescension. I'm left to wonder, "Is there no such thing as common courtesy anymore?"

My impulse to comment doesn't stem from some superior level of human decency, but from working in an industry where posting false, unfair or ugly remarks on social media will land our company in hot water and send me to the unemployment line.

Do you think a social climate where personal standards of courtesy are being diminished will influence professional courtesy or social communication standards? I shudder to think. As advertising and public relations professionals, it's up to us to keep the bar set high. Let's remember what happens when our social actions are not guided by clear, professional standards.

What about formal news outlets? Everyone accuses the media of bias. I don't subscribe to any major conspiracy theories about the media but I do pay careful attention to every word and phrase presented.

In college, I was given an assignment to pick a controversial topic and interview a person on both sides of the debate in video format. The objective was to produce the video in such a way as to persuade the audience to agree with my position on the subject. That meant everything from camera angle, lighting, framing and editing, all to leave a (biased) subconscious impression on the viewer.

When I presented both sides fairly my professor rolled his eyes and said, "That wasn't the point of the assignment." Even though I didn't follow directions, I definitely learned the lesson. And, thankfully, I didn't fail.

We can talk all day about legal wording or ethics, but humans with a point of view are clever little things. And it's not that hard to present something technically correct but clearly produced to manipulate.

If you've never considered the ways in which information can be intentionally misleading, please watch this re-edited trailer depicting Stephen King's The Shining.

Every day we are faced with ethical challenges. In many cases, our professional ethics are governed by a formal code of conduct, other times by the law. Then there are the grey areas where we must rely on our own professional standards and conscience. What happens when it's difficult to determine what is right? Will we go the easy route and then try and rationalize it or will we pause and take the high road?

No one ever said doing the right thing is easy but keeping our integrity, both professionally and personally, is always worth it.