A question of ethics
Think fast. You get a text from a friend informing you that there has been a three-vehicle collision on the Causeway. What do you do?
a) Text everyone you know as fast as you can.
b) Check to see if there are any good pictures of the wreckage on social media.
c) Call your cousin in Bailey’s Bay to find out what’s going on.
d) Hop on your bike to go see for yourself.
Regardless of what your answer is, you have just made a decision based on your personal perception of the situation. You have made a judgment call which could be classified as perfectly normal but might it be a measurement of your own ethical principles?
Once upon a time, ethical standards were fairly straightforward. In other words we all knew them, recognised them and accepted them: thou shall not, lie, thou shall not steal … And whether we liked them or not, (or lived by them or not) everyone played from the same playbook.
But what about now?
Do these same simple rules cover all situations or are there a lot of “grey areas” where we get a feeling that we ought to do one thing but just shove it aside with a giggle and do something else entirely?
So what do I mean by this?
Well, let’s think about the situation above for a minute.
If you simply send a text are you helping by sharing news that people need to know, or are you spreading false rumours?
If you look at images of the incident on social media are you doing research, or are you entertaining yourself by gawking at someone else’s misery?
The tricky thing about ethics is that they are influenced by our perceptions and our perceptions are shaped by our experiences. Things we did or experienced as a child typically have a great impact on our later years. If we witnessed a parent or a friend doing some wrong – not necessarily against the law, but just “wrong” – then we carried that event forward in our mind as we grew up.
Therefore, is it possible we would repeat the same action as an adult? Or is it possible that our recognition of “wrongness” has shaped our approach to life, and prevents us from repeating the same error today? In other words, if the event back then was “unethical” have we learned to not do the same thing?
Looking back, we might empathise with the situation now that we are grown up and have a clearer understanding of life, but many people would still condemn the event as being wrong, and even perhaps classify it as unethical.
Many years ago Joseph Fletcher wrote a book called Situational Ethics. According to Wikipedia, “Situation ethics takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards”.
It's a logical extension of Fletcher’s argument then to say that situational ethics might be applied to the ongoing regulations regarding wearing masks and social distancing.
On the one hand yes, we are all fed up wearing hot stuffy masks and hanging around the house. Yes, we long to get dressed up and go out for drinks with our friends; yes, we want to throw a party and invite half the phone book, but does that mean that it’s OK to gather in large groups and behave irresponsibly?
In short, does the fact that this pandemic has lasted more than a year justify a few lapses in good judgment?
Or, has this health crisis has forced us to evaluate – or perhaps re-evaluate – how we look at ourselves and others?
Robin Trimingham is the chief operating officer of The Olderhood Group Ltd and a virtual presenter, journalist, podcaster and thought leader in the fields of life transition and change management. Connect with Robin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/olderhoodgroup1/ or firstname.lastname@example.org