Codes of conduct seem to becoming increasingly popular in academic communities. I believe that a “code of conduct” is something each of us lives by every day, based on how we were raised, our experiences in life, and the morals and values that those things impart upon us.
A bit of background about me (skip below if not interested)
For me, I was raised in a Christian household in central England. Even though I no longer call myself Christian, or align myself exclusively to any one religion, core teachings from my childhood still resonate strongly with me today. Love thy neighbour. Turn the other cheek. Be kind and forgiving to everyone, and so on. I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist of these teachings remains prominent for me. I have never been formally trained in ethics, morality, and philosophy beyond this and some early church-goings. Pretty much everything in the rest of this post is based on my life experience outside of that religious sphere, but ultimately grounded in it from an early childhood.
I guess it is fair to say I come from a ‘working-class’ upbringing, going to public school in an inner city surrounded by council estates, playing football on the streets, but I was never a type of ‘lad’, usually associated with that demographic or life. This upbringing afforded me top level street degrees in sarcasm, swearing, and dark humour. Most of my closest friends from my childhood have always said, half-jokingly, that I exist all over the autism spectrum, and probably also have ADHD and depression, but I have chosen never to get these professionally diagnosed.
These days, I maintain quite a ‘nomadic lifestyle’, so that I can exercise full independence along with the responsibility that comes with that freedom. I find this personally useful for remaining focused on solving the problems that we face in society without being distracted by financial or material burdens.
I tend to dislike labels of any sort. I know that some use them to shape a personal sense of physical or social identity, and I applaud that and believe they should be worn with pride. However, at a scale beyond the individual, I find them divisive, exclusive, and more about defining boundaries between social groups.
I prefer to focus on the present moment in which I am living, and enjoy seeing how things play out in the future. I feel that this is what enables me to enjoy life to its fullest, even during the times when it feels at its darkest. I also expect this code to change in the future as my life encounters new ethical challenges and experiences.
I prefer to define myself based on my behaviour, which is guided by my personal values, morals, principles, and ethics. They are by no means static, and I feel like in the last 3 years, many of the things described here have rapidly evolved or grown thanks to a number of intense experiences. Even now, writing this article feels like part of this ongoing evolution. It is not something I would have tried or even been aware of a couple of years ago. At the present, I spend most of my free time leading a simple life, meditating, reading books and articles that challenge and diversify my existing views, exercising, and well, dealing with the ongoing volcanic eruption associated with the OpenCon saga.
As part of this process, I am now openly declaring my own personal “code of conduct”, as a set of morals, principles, and beliefs that I uphold and act by. For those who wish to work with me in the future, or invite me to talks, workshops, conferences, or other public events, I am making it clear right now who I am and what I stand for. If you do not like this or disagree with any elements of it, I respect your right to have that opinion, and would be delighted to discuss further.
My personal code of conduct
Virtually all of what follows is based around one core principle: Being the absolute best that I can be for myself, so that I can be better for those around me. These pluralistic values are not, I believe, in tension with each other, and indeed many are intimately related and overlapping with others. This is just the best way I can put things that are often difficult to express into words. In the cases where they involve other people, I consider them to be unconditional and consistent in their application.
Integrity – I strive to uphold the highest degrees of ethical and moral conduct, both as a researcher and as a human, and always strive to practice what I preach. This includes acknowledging when I am wrong or have made a mistake, acting upon those things appropriately and with humility, and holding myself accountable for the consequences of my behaviour both personally and professionally. I accept full responsibility for my thoughts and behaviours, including negative ones. If I know that I have caused pain or hurt to an individual, not only do I meaningfully apologise, but also ask for forgiveness and how to atone for the impact of my actions.
Freedom – I act, and expect others to act, without external constraints, except for those imposed by our own moral standards and beliefs and as long as they do not do harm to others. I regard this to apply emotionally, intellectually, and physically. I believe that liberation from many external social expectations can be empowering as an individual.
Honesty and truth – I will act with authenticity, and never intentionally deceive or mislead others, and always seek to ascertain the truth of a situation. I will also seek to combat ignorance, egoism, and false desires through perception and attainment of knowledge. This includes not telling ‘white lies’ as a temporary form of comfort, as I believe that the truth always emerges in one way or another, and can sometimes be painful to hear. That does not mean that people do not need to hear the truth though. I will never be dishonest or hide the truth as a form of self-protection either. The truth can often be messy and difficult to see at times, but it is precisely this challenge that helps us to mature. This also means being openly honest about myself, who I am, and how I live my life. I believe that only through truth and honesty can we maintain any sort of moral integrity.
Respect – I always treat others equally, without discrimination, and in the same way that I expect to be treated. With courtesy, kindness, and civility; irrespective of any social identity or background. That is, unless I believe an individual to be actively opposing those things which I personally uphold, in which case I will discuss it with them and seek to resolve the tension. I do not behave in different ways towards different people. I treat everyone in exactly the same fundamental way, irrespective of how they see themselves.
Justice – To follow the function of the law and Human Rights with unswerving devotion, and encode them in my beliefs and practices. This includes identification of things I believe to be unjust, and acting in my greatest capacity to prevent them. For me, justice is part of an egalitarian mindset, in which we treat all others equally and consistently.
Tolerance – I am uncompromisingly accepting of all individuals, no matter what their morals, views, social status, backgrounds or anything else are. I do not pass judgement on anyone, irrespective of the circumstances. Moral agreement and objectivity on all things are not always possible. Humans are complex, and we can never fully understand or appreciate what drives people to do things that we might disagree with. At the end of the day, we are all human. Part of this entails remaining calm, rational, and empathetic in the face of those who seek to do me harm.
Patience – To operate at a pace in which others find comfortable. This also entails being more reflective rather than reactive, both physically and emotionally. This is a commitment to not be impulsive to external or internal stimuli, especially those which are hostile such as anger, but instead use these opportunities to practice compassion. By distancing myself from emotional reflexes, I seek to remain more compassionate and understanding in all situations.
Selflessness – To always strive to act with humility, and responsibly in the services of the best interests of others, and of wider society. Sometimes this might mean at a cost to myself, but I feel I am strong enough to deal with those situations. I will on occasion put myself first, but on a combined value-based judgement depending on the scenario. Others have tried to change me before to suit their vision of how they wanted me to be, and I will not accept that in the future anymore. I believe that true selflessness can only come once we have fully accepted and embraced who we are, and use that then for the benefit of those around us.
Forgiveness – Any transgression can be forgiven. Any. I believe that this is part of being a truly compassionate and empathetic individual, and to apply this unconditionally and without bias. Those who seek to do us harm are the greatest teachers we have in life, for allowing us to exercise forgiveness.
Courage – I stand up for what I believe in, even when those things might be unpopular or cause me harm. It also means being myself with authenticity, and not changing that for the whims of another group or individual. This means being transparent about my beliefs and motives, such as through this post. This also includes not being afraid to speak honestly and challenge the status quo, but also accepting the limits of my knowledge and acknowledging when I am wrong or have made a mistake.
Happiness and gratitude – I mean, have you seen the world around you? It is so damn beautiful. Yes, there is a lot of human-caused pain in the world at the moment. But look at snow-capped mountains, feel the grass on your feet, bask in the warmth of the sun, and laugh and sing in the dance of the wind. I feel completely overwhelmed and enraptured with joy and gratitude sometimes for the world around me, and the beautiful people living in it. I will enjoy all of the qualities born of nature. Equally, I will show gratitude towards those who guide and support me through life.
Peace – No matter how much I disagree with someone, I will do it with civility. There is so much hate and war in this world, and we can be exceptional at not giving into these negative emotions when under pressure. This also means controlling moments of anger, should they arise. Projecting calmness and peace is also useful to those around us.
Sharing – To always share as much as we can with those around us. And not for the hope of reward, but sharing because it is a good thing to do selflessly. Even though I have never had much material possession compared to those around me, I always felt I had too much. Share knowledge, share love, share kindness, share strength. Sharing is caring.
Loyalty – I stand up for my friends, my family, and those whom I love and respect, without question. I never turn my back on them, unless in the case of a serious violation of this code. If someone behaves in an aggressive member towards someone in public or online, I will defend them with all the capabilities that are at my disposal.
Kindness – While I might not believe in “karma”, or the promise of heaven and immortality in eternal life, I still believe that unconditional kindness is the best thing we can do as humans. I believe in trying to have a positive impact on those around us, no matter how we might be feeling at the time. Even in my darkest personal moments, I have always tried to show care and kindness to those around me, both in thought and in action. I also do not speak about people behind their backs, unless it is in a purely positive context. Always speak about people as if they were standing right there in front of you. I was taught that if you do not have anything nice to say about someone, do not say anything at all. This extends even to those who have actively sought to harm or wrong me.
Discussion (because this is like an academic paper..)
I do not think that these codes are things that teach us what the explicit divide is between right and wrong. These can change all the time, especially based on situations in which we find ourselves. But I feel that they act as a powerful foundation and a guide for our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
I personally find writing these sorts of things down very useful as a form of reflection. Recently, for example, I have written privately about what my core values and expectations are for future relationships, both with friends and romantic partners, and where those derive from and what their implications are. I realised that my previous experiences consisted of constant violation of virtually all of these over a period of several years. Now, I am using this experience to mould new, healthier present and future relationships, and from what I can tell it seems to be going well. I feel writing this article could have a similar positive impact on my life too, and that I can use it to shape new boundaries and healthier relationships with those I interact with.
Now, a lot of these things might feel like ‘buzzwords’ or flowery bullshit. Or, just seem like things that naturally make a ‘good’ human. However, I have seen these words cast around a lot and mis-used. Some of those I know who preach empathy are the most selfish I have known; some who preach tolerance are the most judgemental; some of those who seem superficially kind are in fact the evilest in my experience.
To go beyond this superficiality, and forms of virtue-signalling, I think that you have to have these things written down, along with their justifications, and see them as part of a whole package. And you have to live them on a daily basis. You can’t just pick one or two aspects and then expect to become, or claim to be, an ethical person overnight. And you can’t just select when you chose to live these things, it has to be a constant part of you. This way, we condition ourselves to be held accountable to our behaviours, based on our moral code.
Upholding all of this all the time takes consistent, sustained cognitive and physical effort. It is part of a process of becoming more ‘self’-aware. Not woke, but more ‘mindful’, without the nonsense that has often become associated with that term. For me, I make steps towards this through writing, daily meditation, and keeping my mind and body as healthy as possible. And then using these activities to set and renew my motivations and to reflect upon those things. By this, I meant to look at things when they are not clouded by emotions, and we can observe our behaviours and thoughts more rationally. I am thankful that I have the time to do these things, and am aware that others might not be so fortunate in this regard.
My mission each day is just to be a little better than I was the day before, in all respects.
Of course, there are times when I fail to uphold all of these at once. This is all part of the continuous process of self-improvement, emotional growth, and ego-release. If you don’t make and acknowledge your mistakes, then how are you supposed to learn from them? I can’t imagine what it is like to go through life without acknowledging your own failures.
What do I do if I break my own code of conduct? I immediately seek remedial action from those whom my behaviours might have caused harm to. This can include asking for forgiveness for hurting an individual, making a public apology, or whatever is deemed necessary and appropriate for the given mistake. Any problem can be fixed given enough care. I also make sure not to attack myself during these cases. When I fuck up, I stay calm, rational, and forgive myself so that I can deal with the consequences rationally. I mean, you have to apply the same standards to yourself as you do to others, right? If this code is breached, I will identify why and how, how the situation arose, the consequences of such, and how to learn from this in the future.
What this also practically means is that I will no longer attend or support events/communities which I feel have codes of conduct that practically violate, or are largely inconsistent with, my own code of ethics. This includes OpenCon, obviously, and potentially many more if the open science and wider research community continues to move in what I believe is a dangerous trend. I do not believe that it is the responsibility of any self-elected group to try and dictate how we all behave, save that of those who are trained to create and uphold the civil law. While I believe that OpenCon acted within their own code, I feel that they have behaved consistently unethically and in a manner that was with the intention to cause me harm. At the moment, they have given me no reason to believe that this is not the case, and therefore are in violation of my personal code. And while I do forgive those involved without question, this does not mean that I believe that they have behaved in an appropriate and just manner.
Furthermore, now that this is down and in public writing, it gives me greater agency to commit to this code in full. Also, should I violate these things, myself and others can more easily hold me accountable to my own actions.
The Journey goes on.