MAKING ETHICAL DECISIONS
Ethics is founded in truth; therefore, ethical decisions usually are a matter of simply adhering to the truth. In fact, if truth is not an issue, the problem usually is not an ethical one but one concerning personal values, and your decision will be based on those values. You and only you are responsible for that decision, so you must be sure that you are making a decision that you can live with. Forever. If truth is at issue, then you are faced with making an ethical decision. That decision requires that you handle the situation honestly, and endeavor to do no harm to not only the people involved but humanity generally. However, such a decision may require ‘whistle-blowing,’ so you may run the risk of offending others. It’s important to remember that if this is the case, it’s their problem, not yours. If you’re not willing to run that risk, you may not make an ethical decision, in which case it becomes your problem. Being ethical may not always be easy, but it’s simple if you adhere to simple rules. But you must make sure that you don’t redefine ethics to suit a particular situation. Situational ethics is not ethics at all; it’s unethical.
You may be familiar with a rather classic problem presented in ethics seminars: You are in command of a loaded life raft with room for only one more person–more than one and you’ll sink. You come upon four other survivors clinging to a floating plank in water of temperature about 45-degrees. You can take only one, so three people will certainly perish unless additional help comes quickly. How do you choose? The problem sometimes includes variables such as descriptions of the four persons—one may be young, another old, one a Senator or a priest, or some other concern. No matter—the answer is the same: it is NOT an ethical problem. Why? TRUTH is not involved. The decision becomes a matter of judgment and choice for which YOU are responsible and must answer. Tough, huh? BUT it simplifies the ethical dilemma.
Another: During a routine inspection of prefabricated roof trusses you find that several have been improperly welded and could possibly be unsafe. Upon checking you find that they have already been cleared by your immediate supervisor who has slated them for shipment and subsequent installation. The supervisor tells you to let them go as is because replacement or repair would jeopardize both the budget and schedule; you get the distinct impression that rejecting them would embarrass your supervisor and possibly jeopardize your job. Upon further consideration you consider the possibility that they might not fail at all. What do you do? First: Is it an ethical decision? Well, it involves TRUTH… so the answer should be obvious.
AND ONE FOR THE ROAD:
You are president of a local service agency matching single-parent children with volunteer adults who spend four to six hours per week with the child. Each volunteer adult is thoroughly screened by agency professionals to prevent anyone who may harm the kids being paired with the adults. You did not have any say in the screening process. A friend of many years with a fine reputation in the business community has applied to become a volunteer. He has passed all screening procedures, but you know that many years ago he had a drinking problem that caused him to become violent and abusive. Moreover you had seen him abuse his nephews at a family function. Should you let the past be the past, or interfere in the screening process and warn the agency staff of this person’s past history? This intrusion possibly would harm a much-needed match, and perhaps a friendship. Your call…