Ethics: a visual tool

From Treanor Baring:

Many who know me in the NLAPW know that I have recently worked with a project analyzing ethical behavior in corporate settings at the University of St. Thomas here in Houston (Enron’s home town). I was privy to results from research on how ethical groups behave and on the warning signs that ethics are going off the rails.

With that background and based on that unpublished research (credited on the form), I devised this evaluation to help individuals understand ethical issues at stake. I designed it with self-evaluation in mind. It puts choices in visual terms with unethical behavior on the left and ethical behavior on the right (no political meaning attached). Several Pen Women asked that I post it on the blog. Click here for a PDF of my ethics evaluation form. One choice that wasn’t included on the form since it wasn’t a part of the business setting, but would certainly apply to us as Pen Women, would be the choice between “Hostility” vs “Kindness.” Please share your comments, keeping that in mind!

I believe strongly in the Pen Women, our mission, our sisterhood, and of course in what the magazine, the website and the Pen Woman Press have brought to the table in the last five years. I’m excited about our upcoming projects and the service we bring both to our members and the Arts. I’m proud to be a Pen Woman with the likes of Helen Holt and the others mentioned in the recent blog post by Siggy Buckley on our history. All for one!

Treanor Baring
Website Content Editor
Poetry Editor


  1. Treanor, thank you for sharing your data and form on ethical behavior, which I see is sorely lacking in our world today. However, on the home front, I am encouraged by the honesty and commitment we Pen Women have to our organization. In our Cape Canaveral branch, we have members who are truly “one for all and all for one!” I am proud to be their branch president and proud to be associated with such a fine group of professionals. I will share the form with them at our next meeting. It will make for a lively discussion.

    Mia Crews

    • Thank YOU for your service, branch presidents.

      So much ethical behavior (especially around conflicts of interest) is common sense. I don’t think there is one choice on the form that is independently simple, either, (What if transparency would endanger a whistleblower’s career or life?) but taken all together, (whistleblower protection vs. name and shame for instance would help with the example above), I hope the guidelines help. They certainly have generated some good discussion! And the blog is a safe place to explore differences, always. I love the way our commenters are supportive and thoughtful at the same time. THANK YOU Pen Women and other followers for your grace!!

  2. With my grandchildren aged four, six, and eight visiting me, there is ample opportunity to observe their thought and speech processes as they relate to ethical situations. Scary, honest, refreshing; and the list of adjectives goes on. Thanks, Treanor, for your work and for sharing it with us.

    • I’m encouraged by the thought young people are giving to ethical issues these days. And with so much more pressure on them. I hope we can continue to mentor, teach, and learn from the younger generations.

  3. Bet Wooten says:

    Great! but I don’t agree that rules are for those who don’t know what to do. Rules in an organization are the code of behavior we all agree on so we can play together safely and productively; so we don’t run into each other on the highway or don’t infringe on each other’s copyrighted creative work or “trash” each other publicly. In public life they are called “laws” and in organizations they are called “bylaws.” When we disregard them, there is likely to be a CRASH. Our personal self-evaluation should furnish us with our corporate code of ethics. We can all profit from taking this moment of self-evaluation and then applying it to our corporate behavior.

  4. Very interesting Treanor. I am very interested in ethics, and yes, I agree, there is certainly a lack thereof today. It seems that the overwhelming attitude today is that it’s okay to do anything as long as you don’t get caught. I took two ethics courses in college, general ethics and medical ethics and found them fascinating. I wrote one of my papers on lying to children which included interviewing my daughter and several of her classmates. She was I think eleven or twelve at the time (yes, I started college late). In that course we read Sissela Bok’s Lying: Moral Choices in Private and Public Life, which I am now rereading after all these years. Okay, so your ethics evaluation form. I was to the right on most, but in the middle with no rules vs. regulatory knowledge. I don’t really think it is unethical to not have rules. I agree with Lily Tomlin on this one: “Rules are for people who don’t know what to do.” I even posted that in my classroom when I was teaching. Anyway, thank you for this interesting experiment!

    • Hi, Donna,
      Very interesting!
      On the No Rules vs. Regulatory Knowledge–I think your point about creativity and out of the box thinking is soooo important for innovation and invention. My form was in the context of corporate codes of conduct, and the point the study made was that to protect ppl from legal jeopardy (not to mention financial ruin), codes of conduct should inform employees of the laws. Folks went to jail here in Houston for not following the “rules” –state and federal statutes. Good discussion, I hope!

    • I’m so glad this post has generated some good back and forth with different opinions and “takes” on rules, for instance. What I’m seeing in this discourse is that it isn’t a question of agreeing or not, but of context. That’s true with the choices ethics matrix as well. Take the first choice, transparency (ethical) vs. secrecy (unethical): Giving away insider trading info is a crime, so transparency doesn’t apply. It’s the call for INAPPROPRIATE secrecy that raises the red flag. And WHO sets the rules is an important factor as well. In a democracy, as Bet pointed out, we have these rules we’ve all agreed on so that we can get along and not crash. But what if the rules are set by a dystopian totalitarian regime and not the people?

  5. Thank you Treanor for your insightful and important work.

  6. Ethical behavior! What a noble and true goal and challenge for each of us. Thank you, Treanor.
    AND I agree with you; it is a high privilege to belong to Pen Women. I am especially proud of those…YOU!…who are more active than I and accomplish so much good. “One for all and all for one!” Inspirational and motivating… With high regard and fondness, Lois

  7. Beautiful, simple and very helpful. Thank you!