Never have I claimed to be a master of ethics. In fact far from it; my educational background on the subject consists of life and my mother. Recently I scratched the topics surface during an assignment which saw a classmate and I tackle a “professional ethical dilemma”. I’ll spare you the detail, but essentially it presented a scenario that involved potentially breaking confidentiality with our boss or saving a ‘friend’ and colleague from financial hardship. It was here that I was introduced Rush Kidders “9 steps of ethical decision making” for the first time. Kidder logically guides and enables us to come to a reasoned decision. Why would we need steps to guide us? Because every person is unique. We all have different values or morals, what may be ‘just another day’ to one, could be an atrocity to another. Kidders “9 steps” start by deciphering whether or not an issue is a morally questionable as opposed to the ‘norm’. Next they move to separation and extraction of the facts; the who, the what, the whens and the how. Before you puff your moral chest to reach a conclusion, he suggests we consider any alternatives.
Step 4 asks us to “test for right vs wrong”, as I said, we all have differences in our values, this useful but rather aesthetically unpleasing PowerPoint presentation presents four great, and arguably foolproof ways to conduct such a test:
The legal test: is lawbreaking involved?
The stench test: does it smell? does it go against the grain of your moral principles somehow?
The front page test: what ever yone (including your mother, aunt, etc) suddenly knew what you were up to? OK?
The Mum test: if I were my Mum — or any moral exemplar — would I do this?
“Is it legal” no ‘brainer’ right? legal = ok. What about if you use these 4 steps as a process flow chart. Take this legal ‘something’ and then ask the question, does it stink? Suddenly, its pungency doesn’t make it so ‘ok’. Maybe it’s ok by the law by not by your values, or maybe it is? Lets move on to the next step. An old boss of would regularly quote to my team and I “How would it look on the front page of the tabloids fellas?” Not that were ever in a predicament that constituted this statement, but as ambassadors for the service, we were always under the scrutiny of the general public. Its legal, its not against your values but what would your mother say, what would the country say if it were on the front page of the newspaper? If you’d prefer, you can pick anyone whom you class as a “moral exemplar”…what on earth would they think if they knew about this? Nobody wants to hear “I’m not angry, I just disappointed” oh the pain of such a statement! Lastly, if you were that person, would you do this?
Apparently, making a decision in an ethical dilemma is more of a complex business than I ever knew. To ensure that a scenario is right or wrong, we need to be critical of our instinct or assumptions. Just because something is right, doesn’t make it ‘right’…think of your mother, I mean honestly….what would she say?