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Bloeien in beroepsethiek

Fleur Brockhus

Like so many others, I sat at home during the first lockdown and realized that unfortunately I was not practicing a vital profession. As a writer and trainer, I wasn't on the front lines and that hurt. I wanted to contribute and have meaningful work, which has always been more important to me than a big salary. But, was my work valuable enough? Suddenly it became painfully clear which professions really mattered. After some deliberation, lawyers (and florists) were also allowed to count themselves among the vital professions. I wanted to be part of that. But how?

Although I have deep respect for healthcare workers, I did not see myself between the blood spatter (rather, between the petals). The professional ethical side of healthcare appealed to me again. I decided to study philosophy of law through edX and was captivated by the entertaining lectures of the inspired philosopher Michael Sandel. A well-known saying of his is: 'If you put a price on everything, its value goes down'. Does that also apply to praising certain professions, I wondered? The respectful way in which he invited students to participate in the debate on moral issues and to explore their own beliefs fascinated me. In fact, I saw myself more and more in the role of Sandelrella.

Six months later, I came across a vacancy for a lecturer in professional ethics at the UvA. It seemed like that position was meant for me. I had once worked as a student at the UU and I had always felt at home there. Later work environments I continued to compare with the familiar atmosphere within the faculty. So, I wrote a cover letter. After an interesting conversation, I got the job… not. However, the click was mutual and I was allowed to work as a guest lecturer in professional ethics to give reflection lectures-- a role that really suited me.

I have now completed two semesters and checked dozens of internship reports. Professional ethics continues to fascinate. I once went to law school because I loved rules as a child. They gave me something to hold on to in a chaotic world. After a short career in the legal profession, I discovered that the fast-paced legal world was not for me, despite all those fine laws, treaties and regulations that I could cling to and tie others to. I like space and time to reflect and think about moral issues. For example, about what makes a lawyer a good lawyer. What ideal types there are for judges to put justice first. And what motivates legal professionals to make certain choices.

Ethics is not just about the rules, about black and white, but about the thinking behind them. Ethics invite you to explore the gray area. That takes courage, because it's comfortable to stick to rules, to how things should be done. It is brave to look beyond the office culture, to reflect on your own actions and that of your colleagues. Not to hide behind the letters of the law and custom, but also to take responsibility yourself. Sailing on your own moral compass. It can even be disruptive, because sometimes 'bad' behaviors are 'good' and vice versa. Talking about it is so valuable.

Every case is unique, just like every person. I want law students to experience that there is more than understanding case law, applying laws and beating your opponent. Looking with kindness and empathy, putting humanity in justice, becoming aware of your own contribution, that's what it's all about for me.

We are now two lockdowns further and I feel like a fish in the UvA pond: here I can still write and facilitate conversations, within an interesting field, with enthusiastic colleagues and in a role that still falls within the vital professions. What a relief.