December 1, 2013  • Musings

Audit_reports_sq2What matters more: The letter of the law or the spirit of the law?

I’m a spirit-of-the-law kind of gal, but complying with the spirit of the law requires a level of introspection, accountability, and mindfulness that we don’t always assume the general population possesses. Still. Most people want to do the right thing most of the time. Right?

Cynical as we may be (and of course, it is easier to be a cynic with low expectations of those around us), I think given the opportunity, most of us are pleasantly surprised. I see it in my daughter’s preschool classroom, I see it among my students (even the cynical ones), and I see it among my peers. We all tend to exceed the expectations set for us when given guidance, freedom, and a bit of encouragement.

We want to do well. We want to exceed expectations. We want to do the right thing, whether it is in keeping with the letter or the spirit of the law.

And I, for one, would much rather be surrounded by those who feel empowered by exceeding expectations than those content to comply with simply the letter of the law, even when it defies all logic.

But as the article that prompted these musings points out, accountants (and the rest of the world) occasionally face conflicts between regulatory reporting and complying with the spirit of generally accepted auditing standards (although in the case cited, the problem is mostly a language issues rather than a standards issue). No matter your profession, and no matter your conflict, the advice to proceed with caution and ask for help is well heeded.

And it applies when dealing with both the letter and the spirit of the law.


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