Thinking Ethics

2017 May 2
by Dr. Steve Sarche

In this age of “Fake News” and “Post Truth”, it is important as ever to remember ethics and to consciously think ethically. Ethics is derived from the Greek work “ethos”, which means “character”.

Thinking ethically can be helpful in managing the problem of social media misuse or general over-use of electronics.   I will talk about that later, but first a basic overview of ethics, which is a very complicated subject.

Ethics is often confused with laws and with morals.   Laws are external rules we must follow or we get in legal trouble.   Morals are our personal internal rules of what is right and wrong individually.   A person’s moral values tend to be set; they do not change much. Ethics is how we want to be in the world; how our decisions and behavior affect the world. Ethics may change depending on the setting or situation a person is in. Anything from large companies to small mom-and-pop shops have their own code of ethics.

Many people assume that determining the ethics of a decision is a problem for academicians and philosophers to sort out.   There is a misconception that ethical decisions only apply to the big questions such as “Should abortions be illegal?” or “Should we execute certain criminals?”

Ethics can apply to decisions we make during any given day.   It seems obvious what ethics is; doing the right thing. There are many decisions we are faced with, however, that do not have a clear right or wrong answer. Often, we are faced with a decision that may not be best for us, but would be best for others. An example would be that you find out a family member is breaking the law by stealing from others. Do you turn him in or do you ignore the behavior because it is a family member?

This situation brings up a moral dilemma. While it is important to you to protect your family, always be there for them, you have the knowledge that this particular family member is hurting others. You have to figure out if your moral value of protecting family outweighs your ethics of not wanting to harm others.

There is a good strategy in using ethics when making a decision that does not have an obvious answer. Think about your virtues. Ask yourself the question, “How do I want to be?”   Examples of virtues are reliability, integrity, honesty, dignity, respect, tolerance, and, of course, patience.

Once you are in touch with your virtues and the way you want to be, you think of the consequences of a decision.   What are the possible positive and negative consequences if you don’t say anything about that family member in question? Next, think of the positive and negative consequences of confronting that family member and/or alerting the authorities about the illegal behavior.

As the website “ethics.org” notes, you can also help yourself in the decision about what to do by thinking of the following questions:

“How would I feel if the choice I made was in tomorrow’s news headlines”?
“Is there a universal rule of how we expect to treat each other that applies?”
“Will this decision likely bring about a good result?”
“What if everybody handled this the way I am going to handle it?”
“Is this decision in line with my personal values and principles?”

You can use the age-old principles of ethical thinking to the very new age problem of social media and electronics misuse.

If you are dealing with a child who you feel is not making good decisions, think of how you would handle it not just as an upset parent but as a person who thinks in ethical ways.   Kids are emotional about their media and electronics and it gets ugly very quickly in some households when limits are placed.

You can have an ethical discussion about screen time and social media with your child.   Sit her down and work together on sorting out what kind of person she wants to be and help her think of consequences, both good and bad, about her use of electronics.

This can foster a thoughtful discussion versus a power failure that often ensues by trying to limit electronics through draconian measures.   The ethical discussion sets your child up to be more thoughtful about her decisions, and more likely to avoid getting hurt, or hurt others, through social media or other misuse of electronics.

At this point, adults need to be doing this more for themselves as well.   Do you go anywhere any more that you do not see at least half of the people paying more attention to their phone than what is going on around them?

On a bigger picture, this is a time we all must be conscious of thinking about and talking about ethics.   We must think of what is best for ourselves, but also best for others.   It seems that, in some ways, as ethics are slipping around us, so is our peace and happiness.

 

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