Be Good, Play Nice

By Kell, Lawrence A. | Real Estate Issues, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Be Good, Play Nice

Kell, Lawrence A., Real Estate Issues

Share your toys--be good--don't hit. Mothers all over the world say these expressions to their children; and since everyone has a mother, we undoubtedly heard these expressions, and others similar, as children. The biblical Ten Commandments set forth a series of guidelines for human behavior. Laws, ordinances, rules, regulations, administrative decisions, uniform standards and codes of ethics are additional models or patterns for human behavior.

When asked to consider writing an article on how ethics serve the client and the real estate counselor, I began by checking my Webster's Dictionary for the definition. The English language is not as precise as others, German for instance, and it may not have specific words which clearly delineate specific meanings as might be expected; however it is disappointing to consult the dictionary and find the definition for ethics contains the word itself-and I quote:

ETHIC: "1. n. a system of ethics 2. adj. ethical, dealing with ethics, an ethical theory relating to morality of behavior, ethical standards conforming with an accepted standards of behavior, e.g. in a profession or trade."(1)

The dictionary definition of ethics is much like the mother's instructions to play nice--nice not being defined in terms of specific activity, but rather, in the more global sense of the result as opposed to specific actions leading to the result. In order for the child to "play nice" the child must have an understanding of what is embodied in the mother's instructions rather than reliance on the specific words used to convey the instruction.


Ethics has the same position in adult society. It's almost as though if one has to define the word, one does not understand the concept; and conversely, if the concept was understood no definition would be necessary. While I believe this circumstance is well understood by professionals, and particularly by members of The Counselors of Real Estate, the lack of a specific measurement may lead to subjective interpretations rather than objective measurement. When the highway speed limit is 55 miles an hour, this is a precise measurement of whether a vehicle is traveling at the speed limit, or over or below it. The measurement is objective and the same results are derived regardless of who takes the measurement.

Subjective criteria are not susceptible to specific objective measurement. Be nice might have one meaning in our society and a different meaning in another. The measurement is subjective within each cultural group, and, perhaps, even subjective at the level of the individual parent issuing the instructions.

Subjective measurement is not appropriate for adult society, and certainly not appropriate for professional societies. Accordingly, a professional group wishing to identify its members as adhering to specific higher standards of behavior sets forth a code of ethics and professional practice guidelines for the members to follow. By establishing such objective criteria, both within and outside of the organization, there is a measurement for adherence to the adopted standards of the organization. By joining together to establish their standards, the members are expecting and inviting scrutiny of the individual and group behavior.

Different Standards For Different Groups As part of the background research for this article, I reviewed the ethics' provisions of the National Association of Realtors' specialty groups, or affiliates; and key words identifying member activities are summarized here as follows:

* be informed, objective, honest, helpful, truthful, loyal, accountable, diligent,

* and provide fidelity, maintain confidentiality, provide full disclosure, provide competent service, and cooperation in investigations.(2)

In The Counselors of Real Estate's Code of Ethics, each Member is bound to:

1. Conduct his professional activities in a manner that reflects credit upon himself and The Counselors of Real Estate. …

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