Maybe you feel like a voice in the wilderness – like the only one around who feels the way you do. Your company organization may appear to be an ethical place to work, but little of the institutional ethical matter trickles down to your department. No matter where you go it seems that there will always be individuals who behave unethically no matter what a company does. Unfortunately it only takes a very small number of these individuals to negatively impact the work environment and make you feel like the only person around who wants to do the right thing.
This is nothing new. Everyone, at some point in his or her life, has felt like an island as peer pressure chips away at the values he or she holds dear. With or without a supportive environment there comes a time when you must rely solely on yourself to make it through. In this case you can’t help but ask, “How can I hold my ethical ground when others don’t share my values?”
To start with, understanding that you don’t need peers for moral direction will provide a step in the right direction. Without this realization you might as well check your character at the door because you will completely resign to believing and behaving like everyone else. Surviving in a place where you feel ethically isolated requires that you turn inward to become even stronger in your beliefs. See it as a battle. By adopting a vigilant perspective you turn your lonely island into a fortress (with the possibility of taking back some ground).
Once you reject peer pressure, fine-tune what you believe and why. Understand the root core of your ethical issues without the fluff or excuses. When that position becomes part of your belief system and core principles, you’ve got something incredibly powerful. Principles are something that people die for – rules are not. Rules can be bent, rationalized, and justified. You may not put your job on the line because your boss wants you to tell a fib, but you will walk out the door rather than break your core principles of honesty and truth. With principles guiding you, you operate from a position of strength and conviction.
In short term, standing up for your ethical principles will not win you a popularity contest. Ask any whistleblower and he or she will tell you that standing up for principles and beliefs may be painful. But ask him or her if it was worth it and the answer would be, “Yes!” When your ethical values are not just nice rules to live by but are deeply held beliefs, it creates a sense of boldness that makes the loss of popularity easier to bear.
One consolation in ethically difficult times is to understand the unseen, positive effects of your courage. The first and most important person affected is you. Engaging in a struggle over principle can change your life. You can’t walk away from this fight without your character being changed forever. The confidence you gain will go far beyond the workplace setting. The self-satisfaction and pride builds your self-esteem. At first it may hurt but in the long run it feels good.
Another unseen effect comes in the influence you will have over others. From your island, your view of the menacing waters may never change, but what changes occur on that island are in plain view for all to see. Others will notice. People indirectly involved may be encouraged and emboldened by you. Superiors will take notice. Your reputation will be built. You will have a far greater impact on your workplace environment than you think and your acts of ethical courage might possibly send ripples through your entire organization.
In the grand scheme of things, holding your ethical ground despite what happens around you is simply the right thing to do. Your workplace needs it. Our society needs it. In a world that seems overrun by bad people doing bad things, we need people who are willing to stand their ground. We need people who have the courage to stay the course and stand up for good values not because it helps them gain materially, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. Just as the famous words “No man is an island” illustrates that you are not alone, be careful that your behavior at work doesn’t get you voted off.