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Ethics is like getting to work in the morning...

I know is sounds weird but I truly think that “Ethics” is like getting to work in the morning.

There are some things in life that we learn very deliberately. We study books, pass exams and commit to formal continuous professional development. But getting to work is one of those things that is almost entirely tacit knowledge acquired over time by doing it. Sometimes I walk out of my front door, get into my car, or hop on my bike and go down the road, navigate to my office and park all on auto-pilot; almost totally oblivious of what I am doing.

Driving a car or riding a bike is one of the best examples of tacit knowledge. We read books on the rules of the road but we don’t really have any instruction books for driving and they wouldn’t be particularly useful if we did. Think about it! “Engage first gear, apply pressure to the accelerator and when it is safe, release the clutch and move away from the kerb driving safely as near as practical to the left.”

I can remember learning to drive and a long time before that, to ride a bike. There is a lot of tacit knowledge tied up in both skills. Clearly, many people know how but very few of us can explain how to do it.

Even navigation involves a large amount of tacit knowledge. I know what the signs are of traffic jams ahead and how to avoid them. I have modified my route from my home to the office taking a number of back streets to make my journey most efficient yet I couldn’t tell you their names despite travelling on them every day.

There is a lot about getting to work that relies on tacit knowledge; actions I take instinctively rather than as a result of instruction.

The more I think about ethics, the more I think ethics is like getting to work in the morning. We don’t learn ethics from books. We learn ethics from our families, friends, society and experiences. There is a tacit nature to ethics; actions I take instinctively rather than as a result of instruction.

I wanted to write about ethics in this article. I looked at the writing on ethics and it is a subject area that has been studied formally since the classical Greek philosophers. There is a plethora of books, writings and theories of ethics; too many to review here. But at the end of the day, most of us develop our own ethics without reading a single book on the subject.

As a specialist in ethical and responsible investment, I find it really important to listen to people very carefully. My clients have really strong ethical convictions but sometimes don’t find it easy to talk about their ethical objective. The truth is, we are not used to doing it. Ethics are something we do instinctively – like getting from home to work.

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The Four Pillars of Ethical and Responsible Investment Advice

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