The Oath To Be Ethical

The title of the New York Times article immediately caught my attention:  A Promise To Be Ethical In An Era Of Immorality.

This was about Harvard Business School graduates taking a voluntary oath that says their purpose is “to serve the greater good” and that, among others, they will “act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.”

I am very happy about this development.  We all know  that most of these Harvard biz graduates are going to be leaders of big companies and organizations in the future but the NY Times article also says only 20% of the class took the oath.  What about the rest?

I taught Professional Ethics for CPAs for many years to undergraduate students in the Accountancy.  To make it easier for them to remember what the Code of Ethics was all about, we used an acronym to summarize how CPAs are expected to deal with the public, their colleagues and their clients.  Thus, PHILCO: professional care, honesty, integrity, loyalty, competence and objectivity.  (One batch used this acronym for the official organization of accountancy students and substituted “love of God” for “loyalty”.) **  Many other professions and organizations have their own oaths but I think that, even if the words differ, they essentially uphold the same thing: to do what is good for everybody.

What is an oath?   Some might say, “I’ll just take it for the heck of it”.  What happens if you don’t live by the oath even when it says “I will be accountable to my peers and they will be accountable to me for living by this oath“?  We only have to look around us to know what the answer to that question is.

Still, I want to believe that emphasizing again and again what we should do and not do, not only as professionals but as human beings, is a good move that we should all encourage and support.

**In 1999, I wrote a short creed (“The Augustinian Accountant’s Creed” that emphasizes love of God, honesty, justice and equity and service),  that, as department head for the accountancy, I required the students to recite at the start of each day and at the start of each organizational activity.  Later, I modified the daily requirement to a once-a-week requirement (a move that I regretted).  I have resigned from that school and I doubt if they still recite the creed today.


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