The questionable ethics of people in certain leadership positions have made headlines in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. But whether ethical behavior is something that can be taught is a matter of opinion, said members of a panel of experts at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Friday.
"I don’t think you can teach ethics so much as you can demonstrate ethics," said Dr. Craig Hanson, associate professor of philosophy at PBA, speaking as part of a three-member panel on the topic "What is Ethics?" during Palm Beach County Ethics Awareness Day.
|Palm Beach County Ethics Commissioner Manuel Farach makes a point during a panel discussion on ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Friday. Joining him on the panel were PBA professor Dr. Craig Hanson and David Baker, who chaired the county's Ethics Ordinance Drafting Committee. Robert Meyers, former executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics, moderated the discussion.|
Ethical behavior is learned by watching, said panelist David Baker, a shareholder with the law firm of Alley, Maass, Rogers & Lindsey and the chairman of the Palm Beach County Ethics Ordinance Drafting Committee. "Ethics can be taught. It is actually taught very early" in life, he said.
Baker added that periodically people need to be reminded of what's ethical, citing those at the center of the ongoing Penn State sex abuse case. "They weren’t being reminded of what they needed to do," he said. "When you see something wrong, stop it."
Manuel Farach, a member of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics who also served on the panel, said it is a common misperception that morality can't be legislated. However, the multitude of religions and belief systems that coexist in today's society can complicate the legislative process, he said.
"Can you legislate morality for everyone, the same morality … I don't think you can," he said.
However, ethics for most people are "innate," he said. "You know ethical conduct when you see it."
We're at a pivotal point in this country, Dr. Hanson said. "We know how to change a law. How do you change a heart?"
On a few occasions, panelists directed their remarks at the students in attendance. "You young people are the ones who must … say the things that are a bit uncomfortable," Baker said. "When you see something wrong, don’t tolerate it."
The discussion, moderated by Robert Meyers, former executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics, took place during a series of Ethics Day discussions and activities held across the county on Friday.
The purpose of Ethics Day was to inform the public about the ethics movement in Palm Beach County. The ethics movement began a few years ago after several elected officials were charged with corruption and other crimes.
About 25 people, including several students, attended the program at PBA. Among those in attendance was Alan Johnson, executive director of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics.
The program featured an exhibition by the University's ethics bowl competition team. The team engaged volunteers from the audience on the topic of retroactive grade inflation, based on a policy adopted by Loyola Law School in Los Angeles last year.
The session also included a public question-and-answer period.