When the AFL and CIO merged in 1955, one of the federation's first acts was to establish an Ethical Practices Committee. A year later, Chairman Al Hayes received a tongue-in-cheek telegram from the old labor lion, John L. Lewis. "Have you found any ethical practices?" asked Lewis.

The same question might be addressed to official Washington today. The headlines tell of corruption and conflicts. Have the old virtues vanished from government? We have conducted our own survey to discover whether those who govern have lost the spirit of goodwill to their fellow men. The results are heartwarming. Considers these incidents:

One cold wintry night, a blind man stood on a corner near the U.S. Capitol, futilely waving for a cab. A passing motorist pulled to a halt and got out to help him flag a taxi. He also had no success. With the night growing colder and no cab in sight, the motorist offered the stranger a ride. Thus, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) went out of his way to drive the blind man to his destination.

On the House side of Capitol Hill last month, an elderly man in a wheel-chair struggled valiantly but vainly to pull himself up and over an unramped street curb. The wheelchair toppled over, and the man lay on the sidewalk ignored by pedestrians intent on errands of state. A receptionist for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) stopped her car and helped the man to safety. She reported the incident to Waxman, who fired off a letter to the Capitol architect, protesting the lack of a ramp. There's a ramp there now.

Shortly after he moved into the White House, Jimmy Carter interrupted his crowded schedule to give blood. It was the 51st time in his busy life that he donated blood.

The White House received a letter last fall from a Red Cross official telling of a two-year-old Big Rapids, Mich., girl who had leukemia. President Carter was moved by the letter. He broke off business in the Oval Office to call the Red Cross official to commend the town for its efforts and to wish the child and her parents well.

Cancer-stricken Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) could have taken refuge at Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval Hospitals to be coddled by the government doctors and opiated against the pain. Instead, he volunteered to undergo innovative chemotheraphy treatments at the National Cancer Institute. They are painful and nauseating. But the Happy Warrior knows they'll help medical science and bladder-cancer patients in years to come.

Rep. Elliott Levitas (D-Ga.) was about to leave his office late one Friday for a weekend of relaxation. Before he got out of the office, he received a phone call from a grief-stricken woman. Her brother had just died in Greece, and she had no passport to travel to the funeral. Levitas spent the weekend calling State Department officials at home to get her a passport in time for her to leave that Sunday.

On a happier note, Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal (D-N.Y.) has been able to unite a young constituent and his Brazilian fiancee for Christmas. The young couple found it would have taken months of bureaucratic processing for her to come to this country. Rosenthal intervened personally and cut enough red tape to give them a Merry Christmas.

A nun who taught House Speaker Tip O'Neill in high school brought a fellow teacher to his office recently. Her companion's father had been arrested in Caracas Venezuela on vague smuggling charges. Even though the prosecutor sought to quash the charges, a local judge referred the case to a higher court. The signatures of nine judges were needed to obtain the father's release, and the ninth needed jurist was out of the country. O'Neill immediately hit the phone to the State Department for three straight days. The man is now getting out of jail.

The ghetto children of the District of Columbia are a long way from Sen. James McClure's home state of Idaho, but this year, as in the past, he is promoting a Christmastime "Project Happy." The Republican senator has hit up his friends and colleagues for money to buy presents and clothes for needy youngsters in the Washington area.

Rep. Fred Richmond (D-N.Y.) dug into his personal bank account to send 20 underpriviledged children from Brooklyn to live and work on a farm in the district of his close friend, Rep. Richard Nolan (D-Minn.).

Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.) learned that hard-of-heating people often lost federal court cases because there was no provision to have a sign-language interpreter help them at government expense. Mathias put aside more politically rewarding work and gave first priority to pushing a bill that would provide such assistance.

In a world often harsh and hostile, success sometimes seems to go to those who know how to grab. But if the powerful in Washington can find the time to help others, there must be time in everybody's day for acts of kindness and generosity.