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Ethics taking driver’s seat in society, whether for religion or humanity
by Patricia Farrell Aidem, Los Angeles Daily News
11/23/2007 The secular and religious worlds are colliding in a resurgence of ethics in which intertwining philosophies share a basic premise - the Golden Rule.
Churches, schools, business, recreation, law enforcement, government and community groups - whether in the name of God or humanity - are focusing on that golden key: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
"For the last 30 years, there’s been a revolution in accountability," said Nathan Tierney, who has taught business ethics for 17 years at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
"It’s a long process, but it’s happening across the board - in business, in institutions like this university, even in government."
It’s tough to draw a line between ethics and faith-based teachings. You can be ethical but not religious; yet a truly religious person cannot be unethical.
Tierney said the line is further blurred by a growing focus on ethics in worship services.
"In the churches, there’s been a revival of interest by young people in serving others," he said. "I think for a while the liturgies of the church weren’t very relevant. Now both Catholics and evangelicals have geared their services toward the younger audience."
The question is whether a better-tuned moral compass is driving religious thought or faith is sparking a new focus on ethics.
"In all honesty, I tend to think that religion is one of the beneficiaries of this process, rather than one of it causal agents," Tierney said.
For Torrance police Officer Dave Crespin, law enforcement is a calling, born of a desire to help people.
As a public agency, the Torrance Police Department must separate itself from religion, but it places a strong focus on personal responsibility, even invoking the name of God in its code of ethics.
"With every new person hired by the Torrance Police Department, they have a meeting with the chief, before they start training, before they hit the streets," Crespin said. "The chief sits them down behind closed doors and hands them a copy of the code of ethics and goes over it. It’s very important."
Recruits must sign the code, vowing service, honesty, respect, honor and self-restraint.
The code reads, in part: "I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of the police service.
"I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession, ... law enforcement."
More and more city councils and police departments have such ethics codes. City parks require youth athletes - and their parents - to sign a code in order to participate; schoolchildren have lessons these days in character.
"When we talk about ethics, treating everyone fairly, you talk about the same core values: service, excellence, integrity, compassion and pride," Crespin said. "Those are the five core values we speak about, and I think they go beyond police work."
In business, nearly all Fortune 500 companies have comprehensive ethics training programs, prompted in part by high-profile corporate scandals of the last decade, said Tierney, the CLU professor.
"There’s been a dramatic surge in ethics training across the board," he said.
During his 17 years at CLU, Tierney has seen students in his business-ethics course evolve in terms of understanding the role of ethics in the professional world. Where in earlier years there was cynicism - the assumption was profit over morality - students now approach his class with an understanding of the need to bring morality to the boardroom. They start out the semester with questions about how to make that happen.
Ed Barwick is a retired U.S. Customs official, president of the Downtown Long Beach Lions Club, active in his Catholic church and a former member of the Mayor’s Ethics Committee.
He said he’s seeing a revolution of sorts as the "Me Generation" ages and growing numbers of young people become involved in charity.
"I think there’s beginning to be a turnaround," Barwick said. "People are looking to give back. I think people are beginning to get more involved in helping others."
Using the Lions as a barometer, Barwick said he’s seen a surge of young members in his chapter and noted that a new club in Lynwood was just chartered with "several members who are quite young."
For Barwick, who spent the week in Arizona helping his daughter-in-law with a Thanksgiving charity, ethics are a mix of faith and human nature.
"For me, ethics intertwine with faith. Both are how you treat others, how you relate to people and how you respect them. The concept is that you give something back to the community.
"It’s the basic Golden Rule - if you treat people fairly and with kindness, the vast majority of people are going to be honest, open and treat you fairly."