Webinar presenters Dr. Kimberly Miller and The Virtus Group's Roy Bethge answered a number of your questions after their presentation, "Not Your Momma's Ethics." Here are a few of their responses.
Audience Question: How do you handle the situation when you handle a small department or office. There's only one or two other people you work with and they're doing unethical people? Do you proceed to your report to the management anonymously? How would you recommend the person proceeds?
Roy Bethge: It depends. It's part of the answer to that. I think relationships especially in small agencies, what kind of relationships do we have with one another? My general advice, depending on the level of the unethical behavior we're talking about is, first, I would approach the individual that did the thing that's potentially unethical and talk to them because it's certainly possible that they did not realize that the choice they made wasn't ethical and I would encourage them to fix problem and report themselves, at least to the immediate supervisor, that this thing happened. If that didn't work certainly, I think depending on the circumstances, the individual who's making the report or saw the behavior has an obligation, both statutory and public policy obligation to report that to the organization, supervisor again depending on what that is. I don't think we can ever let bad ethical decisions slip. I think they have to be addressed and hopefully have a good enough relationship with the individual to help make that right. We have some examples across the country in the headlines on the daily basis where things just carried away and you wonder why some of these issues were not addressed right away. I think we have to be more forward and willing to challenge people on their behaviors and give them permission to challenge us as well. I think we could potentially be more successful.
Audience Question: Do you think it is better to have integrity or loyalty? And why? They find normal people to answer loyalty than integrity. They would love to hear your thoughts about the question, also how do you follow-up that question?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: It's really good, great question and I get all the time. One of the other very similar questions I get is, it better to have loyalty or honesty? For me, again not being faced with that challenge, let's be honest, that's a tough challenge. I'll add a little bit to this. I said before with Roy, it's easier when it's legal or illegal, right? Black, white, easy. But when you talk about things like honesty versus loyalty or honesty versus integrity. Roy and I would both say those are both positive character traits. Loyalty is important, integrity's important, honesty's important right? That's where I see most people having the big ethical dilemmas. Not picking between the right and wrong but picking between two positive virtues. I think at the core of what is my moral compass honesty or integrity would trump loyalty because loyalty, as Roy was sort of giving out especially with the small departments potentially, a lot of times people don't speak up because of loyalty. It's their fear that their best friends or supervisor help them get this job or give them a great position. So, they feel really loyal to that person. So, they go, "I'm not going to speak up because they made my career". I think being blindly loyal or not checking in with your own moral compass is a problem. Again, loyalty is a great virtue and it has its place but when you compromise your own integrity, you go against what is right or good, you reduce your character or you lie to be loyal. I think you're in a place of character compromise and I think in my experience in training around the country those are the harder ethical dilemmas. Not right, wrong, black, white. It's loyalty versus honesty or integrity.
Roy Bethge: I just want to comment about those type of questions and some challenges I've seen with the for example which is more important. I think we’re likely more successful with scenario-based questions no different from the question you asked me because I would need a lot more information to be able to honestly answer that.
To use loyalty trait as an example is, who are you looking to be more loyal to? The individual? The organization? The profession? The United States? The Constitution? All those are different things. I spend a lot of time talking about honesty and truth as positive character traits which they clearly are but I ask the question, do we have an obligation because of our professional oath to always be honest, always be truthful. All of a sudden when you frame it that way some people start looking at you and like "whoa hold on, there's more to this."
For example, police sometimes twist the truth to get people to confess to a crime that we have evidence that we don't clearly have. A specific example I used is that I've had a grandfather die in my arms from a car crash and, without graphic details, it was a horrifically painful death. A family member comes to me and says "did grandpa die?" I'm afraid I'm not going to say yes, it was painful, or it was excruciating. Did he suffer? No, he did not suffer. Some human side of that conversation which is why I think a scenario-based question is always going to be better than just a generic. The individual that you're interviewing might not be understanding the questions the same way that you intended.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Great point. I totally agree with you. Totally. Thank you.
Audience Question: How do you address the situation where the command staff of an agency does not act in an ethical manner but as a supervisor I still expect my personnel to behave ethically?
Roy Bethge: There is a complicated question. We don't have enough time to talk about that. The disillusionment study that Virtus group has been working out in the last 18 months. Needless to say, there's a substantial issue specifically with police officers, sheriff's deputy becoming disillusioned sometime in their career, this is not the thing I signed up for. Then again that's for a different webinar. When we asked the sources of this disillusionment, not surprisingly, a lot of people point to command staff decisions and command staff ethics as being a major source of their disillusionment. My first answer is lead up, always try to lead up and address issues, again depending on what it is. The reality is that we as individuals, we're going to hold ourselves to a high standard and as Kim said, we, of course, are going to demand personnel acting in an ethical manner. I can't control the behavior of command staff. I can only control my behavior and demand high standards from the people I'm responsible for. I hope that's not a cop-out but that's where I stand on that one.
Audience Question: How do you re-establish self-care when you are burned out? How do you address that issue?
Roy Bethge: I got to go first on that one. My answer which is in the textbook is it depends on what the source of the burnout is. I think when you look at stress and you look at divorces, alcoholism and pill addictions and the suicide rate in the justice system, which is out of control, it's a complex kind of situation. I think we need to be our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper, if you will. I think early on in our career, especially in our professional careers, we have to find somebody we can trust, somebody that can hold us accountable and somebody that can keep us on point and focus on true north and we can talk about this for the next four hours and I still wouldn't be done talking about it. That's pretty much how I feel about it. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: On December 11th, I am doing a webinar for the Justice Clearinghouse. It's called "Keeping the Superheroes Super" which is all about stress care, self-management compassion fatigue, how to manage your stress. I encourage those of you who are interested in that to please come to that webinar when I can speak to that more. Maybe next year, Roy and I can do a follow up where we explore ethics, stress care management.
There’re two suggestions I would give to you today. Number one, you have to learn to say no. We have a problem because everybody in the justice profession, you are a service provider. You are in it because you want to help people, you want to make a difference in the world, you love your job, you're passionate, you're willing to self-sacrifice. And all those are noble things and it makes you great at your job but it makes you horrible at self-care because you go you all come in, you all do this, you all be on this project and you all help and so and so and put it all at work. You have nothing for home. You have nothing for family and nothing for you. You have to learn to say no and saying no is not a four letter word. Saying no is not a bad thing, saying no is not selfish. You learn to say to no for your yesses, so you can fully show up. Whatever those yesses are, for your work, for your kids for your partner and for yourself. The reason we all burnt out and stressed out is that we say yes way too much. Figure out where you can set a boundary and where you can say no.
The second thing is what fills you up? I use the metaphor of like a hundred gallon barrel of water. When your hundred gallons are full of water you can breathe deep, you're full, you've done self-care. It feels great. Most of you all who go to work, out of a hundred gallons you might have this much water or you might have a shot glass of water. You can't show up well, you can't make ethical decisions or make character-based decisions with this much water. That's what happens, you have your ask yourself, what fills my bucket up? Is that taking hot baths, getting a massage, time in nature, that works for me, fishing, hiking, hunting? What is it that fills you up that you can breathe deep and relax and make a commitment to go and do it? That's where you put the boundaries. You say no to some things so you can go to fill your bucket back up. I'm not suggesting every month you always have to be in your hundred gallons but what are the little things throughout the day, throughout the week that you can add more water back to your bucket. I would suggest that even one supporter, do something, even for a few days that fills your bucket because you deserve it, your family deserves it. The people you work with and work for deserve you to be able to show up in the best way that you can. It's super hard to do but find ways and find things that fill you up and commit to yourself that you deserve it, that you will.