The mountain ascetic who shuns meat, television, alcohol, and doesn’t say a mean word about anyone, what willpower they must possess, we think. But what would you say to the suggestion that the mountain ascetic actually exercises no willpower at all? Rather, she has given herself no choice but to shun these things because it’s in her code of conduct, or mission statement. I shall not watch television. I shall not eat meat. I abstain from calling my neighbour a good-for-nothing donkey because it’s how I behave.

Schools, universities, sporting teams, the military, all have codes of conduct for the same reason, to save people from the galactic struggle of having to exercise willpower or to do the ‘expected thing’. Thou shall not have a messy bed in the military, saves the officer from having to make a choice in the morning: “Could I be bothered to tuck in my sheets today? Mmm, nope.”

Interestingly, while we all happily accept codes of conduct at work, or on the sporting field, why do so few of us have a personal code of conduct to govern our own lives? Because by having a code of conduct and enshrining it in a place where you can view it - even printing it out and carrying it about in your bag - will be useful if you just can’t summon enough willpower to act in the manner that’ll make you the most proud. What’s most interesting about a personal code of conduct is that it gets you thinking about the values, and behaviours, that are most important to you, an interesting exercise in itself.

While we all happily accept codes of conduct at work, or on the sporting field, why do so few of us have a personal code of conduct to govern our own lives?

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