What You Don’t Understand About Ethics

Simply put, there is a lot that so many people don’t understand about ethics. If the difference between ethical and unethical was the same as the difference between legal and illegal behavior, what is ethical and what it is not would certainly be easier to understand.


An “Ethic” is defined as principles of conduct governing an individual or a group. To be very clear for understanding, a “principle” is a fundamental truth that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

I have often thought that Ethics is the blood that runs through a Professional Guide of Alaska. The field of Ethics (or moral philosophy) involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior.

The confusion, I believe, comes from the fact that the words “Ethical” and “moral” are used synonymously in the dictionary. The easy way to understand the real difference is Morality is internal and Ethics are external. What’s more: Ethics are enforceable.

Ethics are a topic we discuss at many opportunities with our Professional Guides and Alaska Guide Trainees. It is also a big and oft discussed topic in the world of Social Media. As a topic on Social Media, it is second to only manners.

Funny? Or just sad?

A Code of Ethics describes the highest values to which an industry aspires to operate at.  Ethics involves deciding and making the choice to do the right thing when the opportunity exists to make the wrong choice. Making the right choice when the wrong choice is still a legal choice.

Often, it seems, “Ethics” is a matter of dealing with dilemmas that have no clear indication of what is right or wrong.

…. We call these “moral mazes.”

That seems unfair, I know, the confusion of understanding exactly what and how to have “good ethics”, whether for yourself, your business or as a Professional Guide. There are answers.

First, legally, if you break the law, it is unethical behavior. It does not matter if you believe with your whole being that the law is wrong or not. If you break the law in your choice or actions, you are being unethical.

Second. We all know right from wrong. You (or I) may like this better than that, but if that choice is also something that is wrong or even questionable, it may also be unethical.

Third. You either have a business or work for one. If your actions or words in any way go against the Mission Statement of that business, that is unethical.

The values that we, as Professional Guides, need to have, to train with, to lead with and to continue to stand proudly with are:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Loyalty
  • Commitment
  • Respect
  • Morality
  • Self Discipline

There are two levels of the Ethics Standards for Professional Guides.

  •  As Professional Guides
  •  The animals, the process of hunting, the moral and fair-chase standards we hold ourselves to.

Safety is a major driver in Ethics for Professional Guides and in this fact, hunter safety and ethics go hand in hand. “Hunting” is to chase or search for game or other wild animals for  food, sport or profit. A “Guide” is one who shows the way by leading, directing or advising. One who serves as a model for others, as in a course of conduct.

There are a few quick reminders that we share with our newly licensed Professional Guides as well as our Alaska Guide Trainees that I will also share with you here today.

  • When you make a mistake, take responsibility.
  • When in doubt, don’t.
  • When you tell yourself, “no one will ever know”…remember, they will.
  • When someone you are with, insists they are right and you have doubts, they are probably wrong.

Finally, I must add this. Ethics are not that hard to grasp if you take them one step at a time. If you, your business or the business you work for or represent holds for instance, honesty, in high regard as a value, then not telling the truth or lieing is unethical. And likewise to any other confusion you may encounter. Also, remember, you are not alone; reach out and speak to a trusted peer or mentor, they will help you stay the path.

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