Opinion | A Risk Manager Reflects on the Power of Her Professional Oath

By: | March 10, 2021

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I graduated from an accredited engineering program in Canada. As part of the program, I participated in a pledge to ethical conduct as a lifelong obligation through  a ritual called The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer.

The ritual is administered by The Corporation of the Seven Wardens and it is required of all Canadian engineering graduates. In a private ceremony, engineering graduates take a solemn oath to faithfully uphold their duties and live by a high standard of professional conduct.

In turn, they receive an Iron Ring. The Iron Ring is to serve as a reminder of that oath and is to be worn on the pinky finger of the engineer’s working hand.

The Iron Ring ceremony was created in 1922 by Rudyard Kipling and continues to this day. It came into being following the tragic collapse of a bridge in Quebec, where 75 workers were killed. The collapse was due to poor engineering. The iron used to make the rings comes from that very bridge.

When you are a young graduate in your twenties, you do not forget an event like this, or the oath you made. There was powerful magic in such majesty.

At the time I did not know it, but the grandeur of the ceremony permanently cemented my oath to my conscience.

It grounded my vow to something greater than myself. I pledged to lifelong behavioral governance in my profession.

Lawyers, doctors, nurses, military recruits, postal employees, new citizens and public servants, from legislators and justices to the President also take oaths.

Doctors pledge to help heal you. Soldiers pledge to fight for you. Lawyers pledge to seek justice for you. What would our world be like if we did not believe they would follow their oaths?

Oaths present an ideal to aspire to, and they encourage people to always look for ways to do better. Through oaths, we declare the intention to commit to act in a certain way. They commit us to our goals.

It is a nice way to live in our community when we vow to certain behaviors. What a lovely risk control technique.

But when we break or ignore our vows, how should we think about it? Once compromised, do oaths still have value?

For the majority of people who pledged an oath, it is inevitable that they may break one of their commitments at some point in their life. But the oath still holds great value going forward.

How so? From my own personal experience, when I breach a promise or commitment, the feeling of guilt always gets me back on track. It never fails.

After I connect the dots between my actions that contributed to breached outcomes, I wait for that deep, uncomfortable, heavy feeling.

Guilt, is like a behavioral alarm bell. When it sounds, I know it’s time to atone.

Guilt never fails to indicate which way our moral compass should be pointing. Mahatma Gandhi was correct when he said: “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”

Even if we get off track, oaths keep us in check. &

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