Cory Booker-The Ethics Reflex
April 18, 2012
It is quite refreshing to see the mayor of a major U.S. city on the front page of the newspapers not for some malfeasance or scandal but for doing something quite extraordinary.
Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ, risked his life in a successful attempt to rescue a neighbor from the flames of her home. He suffered smoke inhalation and second-degree burns.
He does not consider himself to be a hero but said: “There are firefighters who do this every day. I am a neighbor and I did what any neighbor would do.”
The Mayor’s decision to run into the home engulfed in fire and smoke contrary to the objection of his bodyguards was spontaneous. He did the “right thing” as if by reflex!
This is what we should all aspire to do should we be confronted with such life-threatening situations.
How do we know whether we will act morally or ethically in a crisis situation?
We can’t know for sure but if it does happen, it most likely will be because of a life-long experience in “doing the right thing.” It may take a lifetime to become a hero overnight.
The converse is true. One rarely becomes a scoundrel (or a hardcore criminal) overnight. I remember reading the story of a man who, when driving in the middle of the night on a desert road hit a pedestrian. He looked around and seeing that there were no witnesses, just took off. He later turned himself in, and did some jail time. Once released from jail, he went on speaking tours to high schools and universities to tell his story in an effort to help others not to make the same mistake. He reflected on the fact that when it happened, he had not hesitated even for a second before taking off. He said that it had taken years of sliding down the slippery slope of ethical breaches before he committed a crime.
Is it at all possible to develop an “ethics reflex?”
James Hughes, of the British Columbia Institute of Technology, John W. Dienhar, of Seattle University and Terry Thomas, an attorney, defined an ethics reflex as: “ethical action taken without extensive delay or analysis. At times nearly automatic, it is a characteristic of ethical leadership. Individuals and organizations that exhibit the ethical reflex very often do not engage in cost-benefit calculations and/or engage in lengthy consultations with lawyers about ways to avoid liability or “manage” the situation. They tend to do what feels right; they do it reflexively; and, they let the consequences fall where they may.”
Thomas Shanks, S.J., Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics sees the ethics reflex as “almost a second-nature ethical instinct that enables us to know the right thing to do well before the loss of business, reputation, or (self) respect that comes from making a moral mistake. We develop this reflex only by focusing on fundamentals.”
As the Young Adult novelist, Brodi Ashton, once said:
“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”
I believe Cory Booker qualifies.