Developing My Code of Ethics

Ethics is a hard subject for me to explore and write about, and this is my first attempt at outlining, codifying, and stating my code of ethics. This hasn’t been an easy process for me, and I’m definitely outside my comfort zone when it comes to writing and talking about this. For this artice, I’m drawing off of material in a book I read last year titled, “Ethics for the Real World” by Howard and Korver. I’ll be outlining some of the key ideas in this book, what some of my thoughts are, where I stand on some of these issues, and also provide you with some interesting food for thought in creating your own code of ethics.

Ethics vs. Morals:

To begin, I want to make the distinction between ethics and morals. While they are similar, morals
refer to what is considered right and wrong by society, while ethics is more narrowly defined by the behaviors and actions considered right and wrong by our own beliefs, no matter the culture. In this case, we’re talking about ethics, not morals.

Some questions to consider: Can our ethics and moral overlap? How does the society we live in shape
our ethics? What would our ethics be like if we grew up in another culture?

Ethical Transgressions: Deception, Stealing, and

Howard and Korver argue that ethical (not moral) transgressions fall into 3 distinct categories: deception, stealing, and harming. While these 3 categories have many different names -fib,  embroider, doctor, dupe, bend, cover up, misinform, stretch the truth, inflate, embellish, warp, spin, fake, con, perjure, dissemble, distort, theft, shoplifting, embezzlement, swindling, mooching,  sneaking, lifting, hustling, etc – we can break down all ethical transgressions into these 3 categories.

Some questions to consider: Why do we have some many words for these transgressions? Is there a difference between a “white lie” and a regular lie? Are there any other ethical transgressions? Are there any times when it is ok to lie, steal or to cause harm?

Drawing Distinctions: Ethical, Legal, Prudential

Where I tend to get into trouble and muddle up my thinking is in drawing distinctions between what I perceive to be ethical issues. When framing an issue, there are 3 perspectives to consider: ethical,  legal, and prudential. While these perspectives can and do overlap, it is best to view our actions through these 3 independent lenses to help you frame the issue. Legal issues pertain to actions within the law of society like speeding, assault, murder, etc. Our actions are considered right or wrong within the law, and our personal code of conduct is not taken into consideration. Prudential issues speak to our self interest. You can usually tell if an issue is prudential if you balance the pros and cons of the issue, however it does not separate right from wrong nor take into account if the action is legally right or wrong. Finally, ethical issues relate to the issues of deception, stealing, and

Some questions to consider: How can you frame the issue (ex. speeding) through the lenses of ethical, legal, and prudential? When can illegal acts be ethical? Why is there conflict between these lenses? Do you allow certain frames to override another if there is a conflict?

Action or Consequence Based Ethics:

This is the last issue that I’m going to touch on in this post. Action-based ethics is tied to the idea that our ethical responsibility is attached to our actions, regardless of the consequences.  Consequence-based ethics is tied to the idea that our ethical responsibility is attached to the consequences, and our actions have to be judged accordingly. It is similar to the idea of utilitarianism or the greatest good for the greatest number.

Here’s where it starts to get tricky for me. Using the example of lying, if you are following Action-based ethics, you would never lie. But would you lie to prevent murder? It is ethical?  Prudential? Legal? Under the Consequence-based ethics, the issue seems simpler. Under this philosophy, you would also never lie, however, if faced with the same issue of lying to prevent murder, you WOULD lie (or rather I would lie inthis case) as the consquences of lying is less than the
consequences of not lying.

As I’ve been wrestling with this issue, for me, ethics is more action based rather than consequence based. I believe we need to start off with the right intentions and therefore the right actions. Since I have the power to control my thoughts and actions, and our actions influence the consequences, Action-based ethics seem to fit in with my belief system. To expand, if certain actions lead to  consequences beyond my control, should I let that infuence my actions retrospectively? I agree that there are times when Consequence-based ethics may over-rule (I would lie if I knew it would prevent murder), for the most part, I subscribe to the Action-based philosophy.

Some questions to consider: Do the ends justify the means? What if it’s “for a good cause”? How do you define “a good cause”? Are we not responsible for our actions, and therefore the direct  consequences as a result of it? How does our reasoning or rationalization influence the decision making process?

Some key guiding principles for me:
Now that we’ve explored some issues relating to ethics (and there are still more to explore), I’m going to attempt to lay out some of the guiding principles for me in my code of ethics. As I continue to explore this issue, I suspect my views and opinions may change, but for the most part, these are principles I strive to live my life by.
#1. Apply the Golden Rule
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is one of my founding principles and something I take into consideration whenever I’m faced with a difficult issue.

#2. Deception
I choose to live with honesty and without deception. I will make the choice to choose the hard right instead of the easier wrong and never be content with a half truth when the whole can and should be done. I will act in a way that doesn’t deceive anyone or allow anyone to be deceived (i.e. not doing anything that could be considered “sneaky”). I will act in a way where I would be satisfied if I were on the receiving end of the outcome.

I may make an exception to this principle if it would prevent harm to others (ex. lying to prevent
murder) where the harm of lying (to me and society) would be low compared to the harm to society. I’m not sure if there are other exceptions I would make to the principle of living with honesty, but this is a start and where I stand at this time.

#3. Stealing
I believe stealing is wrong. Even if it is easy and I won’t get caught, stealing from “rich people” or “big corporations” or if “everyone else is doing it”, I will not steal. To me, this issue is pretty clear. However, there is one issue that I’m not sure of – that is the issue of downloading.

Fundamentally, I believe downloading without paying for content is wrong. Despite this belief, my issue is this: what is the difference if I acquire the content through a different, legal channel such as borrowing the material from friends, the library, or visiting a bookstore? And with today’s technological advances, and using an example relevant in my case, what is the difference between logging in to my public library’s online catalogue to download and listen to an audio-book vs. downloading it from an “unauthorized” site? What about enjoying a music video on tv or on demand from youtube vs. downloading it from an “unauthorized” site? The content is the same, my actions are the same (use the internet to acquire the content), my enjoyment is the same – and from my perspective as an end-user, there is no real difference other than the details of which channel I use to get the material. I’m not sure where or how to draw the line.

Praticaly speaking, and as a general rule, I do not download as I do utilize the pubic library (and it’s online catalogue), the local bookstore, youtube, tv, and friends to enjoy this content through acceptable legal methods rather than rely on downloading from unauthorized sources. But with that being said, should I feel like I’m stealing if I download from an unauthorized source? Maybe there is a difference in terms of the other transactions going on behind the scenes that I’m not aware of – but I’m not sure. How do my actions affect the underlying industry structure? Either case, with the  incessant march of technological advances, I can imagine the issue of downloading from  unauthorized sources will change and may not even be an issue 5, 10 years from now.

#4. Harm
I will aim to do no harm. However, one exceptions to my principle incluldes self defence, or  defending others when they cannot defend themselves. Expanding on this in another direction, why role should I play in supporting sustainable organizations, supporting organizations who do not have a perfect track record for environmental sustainabililty, human rights, or public health?


These issues are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fleshing out my thoughts on ethics. Other issues to explore (maybe in a later post) incude reasoning vs. rationalizing, framing issues, refining my code of ethics, going through the decision making process, and applying our ethics in a variety of aspects of life. This process has opened up another layer of questions and ideas to consider, and as I continue to work on developing my code of ethics. I recognize and understand that I’m not perfect, but hopefully through this process, I will become better skilled at making these distinctions and thereby better ethical choices in the future.

To conclude, I want to leave you with this story (paraphrased from the book) as food for thought in how you frame an issue in determining if an issue is ethical or unethical.

There were two monks who loved to smoke and pray. They were concerned that their smoking habit was a sin so they went to their superior for guidance. The first monk went to the master and asked “Is it ok to smoke during evening prayers?” The master replied and said no. The next day, the first monk found his friend smoking away when he arrived. He protested, “But the master told me it was a sin”. The other monk looked at him and asked, “what did you ask the master?” The first monk replied, “I asked if it was all right to smoke during evening prayers and he said no”. “Well,” replied the second monk, “I asked if it was ok to pray during our evening smoke and he said it was just fine.”

The Right Frame of Mind

Our brains our amazing objects. With just a bunch or neurons and electrons flowing around (and other stuff too, but you know what I mean), we have the ability to think critically, rationalize, debate, feel emotions, use our 5 senses, and do so much more. And while I’m not a scientist, I’m awed at the power that we all hold between our ears and our ability to create, think, and feel alive.

Despite our similarities in our brains, I’ve been discovering that many of us approach and frame the same issues in a radically different way. And how we approach these issues can fundamentally change our outlook and thoughts on life. While not every thought will change your life, we succeed or fail one thought at a time. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve decided to write a bit about some of the frames we carry around.

1. Is the glass being half full vs. half empty?
This is one of the most common metaphors for optimism and pessimism, and if you believe in the ideas behind the Law of Attraction, you will naturally find yourself in better situations by having a positive outlook on life. One of my favourite stories about this is a Chinese fable about an old man and his horse. As life runs its course, a variety of things happen to him, yet his reaction is always the opposite of what you’d normally expect. It’s a great tale that will challenge your assumptions about interpreting events for better or for worse.

2. Scarcity vs. Abundance?
Do you believe that we live in a world with finite and fixed resources, or do you believe that we live in an abundant world that can provide for all of our needs? Do you believe in freely giving and freely receiving? Can multiple people be successful in the same industry? Or if person A finds a new customer, does that mean person B loses a customer?

3. Growing the pie vs. Taking a bigger slice
This idea is similar to the ideaof scarcity vs. abundance and is a common business metaphor. Itasks if you believe there is a finite value of resources to be competed for, or if you there is a way to grow the pie so that everyone can win and have a bigger piece. One case study that I remember is of Swiffer, which not only revolutionized the home cleaning category and allowed P&G to gain greater market share, but expanded the industry at the same time. If you want to continue reading about interesting stories of growing the pie, check out the book, Blue Ocean Strategy.

4. Proactive vs. reactive?
When opportunity strikes, do you usually find yourself acting in a proactive or reactive manner? What would you rather be doing? Under what circumstances is it better to be reactive or proactive?

I hope this gives you some food for thought and maybe challenges you to look at your beliefs and how you approach life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Life’s too short to let the pessimists, naysayers, or other toxic people pull you down. Focus on being the best you can be and Carpe Diem!

January 2010 Review

January has been off to a fast start so far. The year is already 1/12 done, and I think I’ve made some good process in achieving some of my goals for this year. I’ve gone through a number of stimulating books, got involved with a new organization, and also had a bit of time to relax and have fun.

January Highlights:

1. Return from Lake Placid
At the beginning of the year, I got back from a short getaway to Lake Placid. I went with some friends from my frisbee team to enjoy some snowshoeing, cross county skiing, and have a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. For anyone looking for some outdoor activities in a beautiful mountain environment, I would highly recommend checking it out.

2. Toronto Youth Food Policy Council
Also this month, I submitted an application and received an offer to join the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council (no webiste yet). My term doesn’t start until September and I’m not quite sure exactly what my role and responsibilities will be, but it will involve dealing with local food issues and providing a youth perspective to the Toronto Food Policy Council. As a quick primer, here’s the mission statement of the TYFPC:

“We, as youth, are dedicated to building a food system that is sustainable, equitable, regionally focused and accessible. As a group that represents the diversity of Toronto, we will seek to build community partnerships, produce youth-centered policy documents and encourage the development of sustainable food system infrastructure connected to Toronto.”

3. Photo/Video Shoot
On the 24th, we held a photo/video shoot to get some footage for the Young Urban Farmerswebsite. I have to extend a huge thanks to our social media intern Fran who planned, coordinated, and executed the entire event. From finding the studio space, to coordinating with the photographer, to finding volunteers to be involved, planning the wardrobe, to making sure things went according to schedule – it was fantastic. I can’t wait to see some of the shots from the day and they will definitely be going up on our website in the near future.

4. The 29th Annual Guelph Organic Conference
At the end of the month, I had an opportunity to volunteer at the Guelph Organic Conference. This was a great opportunity to meet and speak with some of the people involved in the organic initiative from across Canada, attend a variety of interesting seminars, and visit the tradeshow with over 100 exhibitors. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be the ones setting up a booth at the tradeshow. For now though, I was happy attending it as a participant and volunteer. Look for a more detailed writeup on my experiences at the conference soon.

5. New Products
This month, we confirmed that we will be retailers for a couple new and exciting products this year. The first product is a grow-it-yourself shiitake mushroom log that sits outdoors and will provide fresh mushrooms for at least 4 years. The second confirmed product is the Worm Factory 360for customers to make their own compost from their daily vegetable scraps. Both of these are premium products, and will allow us to diversify the edible solutions we offer to our customers. We’ve also got a few more exciting new products in the works, and the details will be announced shortly once they get finalized.

January Reflections:

At times like this, it’s hard to believe where the past 31 days of January have gone. On one hand, I can think back in detail and go through a laundry list some of my daily activities and of things that got done and projects I’ve made progress on. On the other hand, it feels January 1st was just a couple days ago and the year is still just getting started. While we can’t slow or speed up the passing of time, I’m satisfied with how this month has turned out so far.

As I sit and reflect the past month, I realized that January was primarily a month focused on business. While this isn’t a bad thing, as business and related stuff keeps me more than motivated and excited about the future, I don’t want to forget about my personal life, hobbies, and having fun as well (though I did get a chance to play lasertag, participate in some group fitness swims, spend an afternoon playing board games, and go clubbing this month). Moving forward, I will make a concerted effort to have more balance in my life, though at this point I don’t mind too much that business and related stuff takes up a good majority of my time and

One of the key lessons I learned this month was in regards to delegating. One mistake that I’ve made in the past was assigning too much responsibility up front, instead of gradually easing someone into greater and greater degrees of responsibilities. In the future, I’ll start off by delegating smaller projects, until the person proves themselves to be capable of to handle increased responsibilities or projects with more skill and complexity. This way, the person will be more prepared and setup for success, and I’ll be able to gradually ease myself off my tendency to micromanage. It’s a win-win situation.

Another lesson I was reminded of this month was to continually face challenges and opportunities with a mindset of abundance, rather than one of scarcity. In essence, this means to view life with a positive outlook, with the belief that there is an abundance of resources, ideas, and things to share.

Looking forward, February is going to be another fun and exciting month. Our sales and marketing is going to get started again for the 2010 growing season, I’m planning a field trip up to my aunt’s farm (let me know if you’re interested in coming with me), and our cash flow should turn positive again this month.

To conclude, I want to share with you this quotation by Woodrow Wilson I found while putting together the sales presentation for Young Urban Farmers CSA, and found it to be very inspiring and something that I’m trying to live up to every day.

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
– Woodrow Wilson