If you have been under the impression that ethical behavior is defined by the law, then you’re in for a surprise. We’re here to shed more light on this topic if you’re confused, so let’s take a deeper look at ethics and the law, and why within the confines of the law isn’t the best place to find guidelines on ethical behavior.
The Essential Difference Between Ethics and the Law
It’s pretty basic that the law is a set of right and wrong, what is allowed and what isn’t. The law defines the prohibitions and defines what we are required to do as well. In essence, the law is a set of minimum standards by which you should behave or carry out specific duties. Ethics, on the other hand, is a set of standards that define the maximum level of standards by which you could carry yourself or carry out your duties.
The Law Is Catching Up
With time, the law has adopted new and improved obligations and duties that need to be complied with when performing business and corporate activity, specifically relating to the duties of directors and taking into consideration the best interests of involved parties. However, there still is much left to be remedied before the law can take the shape of ethical practices, and it won’t be happening soon. Legal duties then are still separate from ethical duties, and while they may sometimes overlap, they often will not correspond.
Real-Life Issues With Ethics and the Law
Consider this – something may actually be legal action or practice, yet it could be considered unacceptable by a party. On the flip side, there can be an instance where something may seem acceptable and sometimes even right, yet it may be illegal. An example is how several companies are not paying adequate tax in many jurisdictions. These companies are not breaking the law, but they are facing backlash from the public as it is not deemed ethical. In the same spirit, a long-time acceptable cultural activity, like the exchange of dowry for a bride, becomes illegal – and this is only one of many age-old practices that have been outlawed by many jurisdictions.
In some cases, laws that are set may be harmful or place at a disadvantage, others, and in such case activists make a concerted effort to change these laws by deliberately disobeying them, for example. However, this is in the name of ethics, and the law is looked upon not to allow unethical practices. This can be seen throughout the history of mankind, and there are countless instances of activism to bring about change in legislation. This activism against the law is all performed in the spirit of ethics, precisely because the law and ethics do not always overlap, as we have pointed out.
The Greater Scheme Of Things
In the bigger picture, it can be boiled down to the fact that the law is the framework that supports and maintains the manner in which a society or institution is to carry itself and perform its tasks, according to a set of rules. However, ethics is a concept that engages thought and emotion. There are times when the law is helpful in determining the way with which something must be done. In the professional environment, compliance with the law is of paramount importance, but there exists a duty to act in the best interests of the public, the environment, and the institution within the framework of the law, but aside from this framework, as well.
And so it goes without saying that it is expected of every individual, particularly businessmen and members of organizations, to act in compliance with legislation but also to be ethical. Doing what you have to do and doing the right thing is not always the same thing, and sometimes aren’t even in the same ballpark. This is applicable to natural persons and to legal persons, and the public as a whole is growing increasingly intolerant of those who go against the spirit of ethics, even if they remain within the constraint of the law itself.
So if you want to be the bigger person, look beyond simply following the rules, and instead take on an attitude of being ethical. It isn’t as easy as doing the bare minimum, as the law will have you do, but it is ultimately a better way of life and a better way of business.