Ethics is About What’s Right (Not Who’s Right)
December 4, 2013 2 Comments
By Linda Fisher Thornton
If you’ve read the news lately, you’ve noticed that there is a lot of discussion about who is right. Each person has an individual perspective that seems to be “right” from where they sit. Each group has values and norms that seem right to its members. How can we make sense out of it all? When we need to make a critical decision, and everyone around us is arguing passionately for a different approach, how will we know which one is most right?
Moving Beyond Who’s Right to What’s Right
In order to move beyond who’s right to what is ethically right, we’ll need to consider multiple questions when we evaluate our choices. Here are five important elements that make up the concept of “ethically right”:
Which approach best demonstrates a strong character and moral awareness?
THINKING BEYOND SELF
Which approach demonstrates the most care and concern for others?
DOING MORE THAN THE MINIMUM
Which approach advocates the highest moral principles?
DOING GOOD (AND AVOIDING HARM)
Which approach does the most good (and the least harm)?
Which approach benefits the most stakeholders?
Moving the Conversation From Who’s Right to What’s Right
Ethics has been getting a bad name in the press lately, because almost all of the coverage about ethics is about the lack of it. I think it’s time we stopped talking about failures, and started talking about what ethics is really all about. It’s about demonstrating moral awareness and grounding, caring for what happens to other people, and doing good in the world. Are you suprised? Ethics is not about power or punishment. It’s about doing what’s right.
How can we move from a who is right discussion to a what is right discussion?
I suggest that we think about that question from a learning perspective. When we approach ethics as something we need to learn, the conversation changes in powerful ways:
- Ethics becomes personal, about us and our choices, not about impersonal rules and regulations.
- Since the world is always changing, we approach ethics as an ongoing learning journey.
- We are open to other people’s ideas and that helps us resolve problems and make ethical decisions.
Being open to learning completely changes the conversation. When we use a learning mindset, the “debate” about who is right becomes a dialogue about how we can all do better.
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