The “Ethical Elbow”
An IOP Intern’s Perspective of the Breaking Point
The question is: how far must one’s ethical elbow bend, before it breaks?
I have always considered myself as being a person of high moral standards. This has changed drastically in the working world – and not from lack of protest. The fact is, the corporate and consulting world does not allow for the young at heart to stay ignorant. It forces us out of our moral grounds where we are comfortable and understand “right” and “wrong”, and places us firmly in a land of foreign terrain.
At one point I believed my ethical elbow had broken. I believed that I was no longer able to differentiate and discern between actions that were just and moral. I felt that any sense of vindication had left me. That I had been stripped of all emotional connection to true empathy.
Yes, empathy was there – but merely as a tool required to understand people further to ensure that I did my job properly. It was necessary to ensure that I fully gauged my candidates’ experiences such that my recommendations could be more on point.
It is difficult to ignore the dissonance experienced as an intern, coming from a studious environment where it is required to integrate ethics and values into each outcome of every activity, and then to be placed in an environment where professional morals are so different in their founding purpose.
Why is one ethical? Why is one moral? Because it creates an environment for fairness and continuous improvement of those sharing that environment. What is the purpose of business? To meet the bottom line.
This dissonance puts strain on the values that guide behaviour within us. It should not be as much as a shock as it actually is, dependent on the strength of our moral fibres – those parts of us ensuring that our ethical elbow bends in all the right directions.
But at some point, those fibres start to stretch too far…slowly snapping and leaving our elbow loose at the hinge. Our elbow breaks. And how does one put together ligaments that have snapped? A good doctor will tell you that ligaments do not grow back – they need to be replaced by alternatives, sometimes tendons from other parts of the body.
And so we try and replace our fibres with other parts of ourselves. Our cognitive capacity is often the first to step in. We rationalise and reason ourselves out of the guilt we are experiencing. We somehow create an intellectually stimulating argument for the actions that we do in order to soften our conscience. This does not take away what we experience inside, merely smothers it slightly – a muffler for a gun that allows us to keep our anguish a disguise.
Morals are a weakness that inhibit us from doing what needs to be done in order to reach the goals that need to be attained. However, every weakness, when placed in a different context, has the possibility to become a strength.
People of high moral fibre are also predominantly role models and leaders for others, who try to replicate the behaviour exuded by these individuals. Even more of repute are those people who are not unwavering in their stance, but flexible whilst remaining true.
It takes a bit of breaking before one realises the pain caused by a value-laden situation. Some people’s pain threshold is higher than others, and they are able to hold onto their ethical standards for longer. But sooner or later, the environment will demand change. It is an adjustment process that all of us have to go through. To be successful, we need to learn how to be flexible in acceptance of those standards that we can rationalise, and then learn when to use our voices and say otherwise.
As interns, we sometimes feel that we have no voice; we are being given the opportunity to learn and we should be grateful about that chance. We should be humble. We should be meek. We should have humility in our gratitude towards those who were kind enough to take us in. This is only one stigma of an intern – however it is a stigma that is felt, at one time or other, by all interns. We feel “put in our place”.
But at what point does the elbow snap back? At what point do we find the courage within ourselves to acknowledge our morals and ethics, and proclaim them for the world to see? At what point do we allow ourselves the luxury of a voice?
If we replace our broken ligaments with pieces of the heart and soul, rather than just the mind, we will be able to build our ethical elbow to a stronger form than it was before. It will require time, and patience, and inner reflections of the implications of our moral intentions. And it will also require us to exercise the muscles around that elbow; feed the muscles with protein and oxygen – the positive reinforcement required to ensure courageous activities in line with a better tomorrow. For all.
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Wonderwhiterabbit hopping off
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