Ethics Development, Understanding and Application
Mr. Mike Mynyk
August 1, 2005
Ethics Development, Understanding and Application
Merriam-Webster Online describes ethics as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation” (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=ethics). Vincent Ruggiero defines ethics as “the study of the choices people make regarding right and wrong” (p. 3). This author defines ethics as those principles by which one makes choices in life regarding what is right or wrong – a personal code of conduct or “rules to live by”, per se.
Defining the difference between ethics and morals, beliefs or values can be rather difficult. Our values are those things we consider important, beliefs are those things that we understand to be true without perfect evidence to support that truth, and morals are standards by which we decide what is right or wrong. With these definitions in mind, we may decide that morals and ethics are the same, with beliefs and values determining our ethics and morals, depending on our definition of ethics. This would be true based on this author’s definition of ethics.
Author’s Personal Ethical Development
This author’s personal ethics include honesty, loyalty, open-mindedness, responsibility, punctuality, self-respect, respect of others, fairness and persistence without stubbornness. Persistence without stubbornness is probably the most difficult ethic to which this author must adhere, but perfection is not always attainable, yet persistence requires our continuous efforts in striving toward perfection. Each of these ethics also requires that we temper our ethics with understanding of the situation at hand. Are we truly dishonest if we are withholding information that may be harmful to all those involved? Or, are we only being dishonest if the information we are withholding can help those involved? Should we adhere to our loyalty or respect of others at the expense of our own self-respect? When we encounter situations that challenge our ethical beliefs, we must decide which of those ethics is most important.
Who Influenced My Ethics and How?
There are several individuals and institutions that influenced my ethics. First, my parents and family influenced my ethics, followed closely by my teachers, religious leaders and individuals who earned my respect. My parents and family provided the initial grounds for the determination between right and wrong, teaching me things that I should or shouldn’t do as a child - throwing food is not acceptable, but placing my food in my mouth is. My mother taught me to consider the opinions of others. Educators taught the principle of honesty by expecting students to perform their own work without copying the work of others, punctuality through an expectation that a student must arrive to school or class on time, and responsibility through class assignments. Religious leaders taught the principle of respecting others through bible verses and stories – don’t do anything to anyone else that you wouldn’t want someone else to do to you.
Other individuals that have influenced the ethics of this author include prominent figures, such as the Dalai Lama and Zell Miller. These individuals earned my respect through their words and actions. The Dalai Lama is a religious leader whose respect for the beliefs of others is commendable, as can be seen in books to which he has contributed and in his actions toward finding a solution for the problems of his homeland. Zell Miller embodies many of the values and beliefs of this author, expressing them in his articles, books, speeches and actions. While I don’t agree with everything that they do, they do embody qualities that I admire.
Manifestation of Author’s Ethics & Their Implications
When asked how my ethics manifest themselves, specifically at work, I must list them individually and give specific examples, as follows:
Honesty – I express my opinions about specific subjects, even when they may differ from those of higher-ups.
Loyalty – I support my company even when my opinion may differ from management’s decision.
Open-mindedness – I remain open to ideas to change processes, even when the process may have been designed by me.
Responsibility – I make sure that I perform the duties assigned to me to the best of my ability and admit it when I make mistakes.
Punctuality – I arrive on time to work each day and don’t leave early, or at the exact moment that my day is over.
Self-respect – I do my best to adhere to my own ethical standards as I perform my duties.
Respect of others – I value the opinions of others and do my best to avoid offending others in the workplace.
Fairness – I try to be fair by not expecting any more from others than I do myself and trying to understand the situations of others in relation to how they live their lives.
Persistence without stubbornness – While performing reconciliations, I work toward a zero deviation, but will not continually pursue a minor discrepancy if I have exhausted all means of discovering where the discrepancy lies.
Each of these manifestations occurs almost daily in my job and sometimes over-laps. For example, having respect for others requires that I be open-minded as I listen to their ideas and opinions.
Each day, I am faced with choices and rely on my ethics for guidance in making decisions. As individuals, we proceed through our work life and must apply our ethical principles to the jobs we perform. When faced with a decision, “Should I deposit this payment into my checking account or the company’s?” an individual must first look at his/her personal ethical standards to make the right choice. By maintaining high ethical standards (often those that conform to the law and societal expectations), we will chose honesty over theft.
Evolution and Application of Author’s Ethical Perspective
To this author, critical thinking and the application of ethics to life’s situations go hand in hand. Many times our ethical standards will support each other, but there are times when we must discern which ethic is most important within a given situation.
In the prior example of choosing to deposit a payment into one’s own account vs. that of the company, the individual may be trying to find a means by which to support his/her family. In making the decision, that person may see his/her responsibility toward family as more important than honesty at work. But as he/she analyzes the situation further, a determination may be made that dishonesty may do more harm to the family, as the individual will be putting his/her job at risk.
Real-life Examples from the Author
The first example comes from what I will call a bookkeeping client, for whom I manage both payable and receivable invoices. In it, the client paid the medical insurance deductible for an employee for whom the delivery of her unborn child coincided with a change in the medical insurance coverage that was provided by the company. The first question that came to mind was, “Why?” I subsequently learned that it was because the deductible had changed. Somewhat reasonable, but to me, it would have been more fair to all employees had the company only agreed to pay the difference in deductibles. Next, I questioned the legality of the payment, but never found a definitive answer. With these questions in mind, I presented them to my boss, along with the expense report that was submitted to provide backup for the payment. While I still question the fairness of the situation, I remain loyal to my employer and have accepted their choice in making the payment. In this situation, my ethic of remaining loyal overrode another of my ethics - fairness.
My second example comes from my experiences with a former employer, in which the employer accused a fellow employee, who was also a friend, of theft - specifically cash missing from the safe. In this situation, my loyalty to my friend was pitted against my loyalty to my employer. My ethical standards of fairness and open-mindedness were also challenged, because the employer did not review the situation in a fair manner and did not remain open to the possibility that another individual could be responsible for the theft. I reviewed the situation for myself and determined that there were at least six other individuals who could have been responsible for the missing cash, including myself, my employer and the employer’s own children. Logic would have deemed it impossible to determine who took the money, requiring that steps be taken to minimize any reoccurrences, without making unfounded accusations. This instance was the “crowning glory” of my time with this employer and resulted in my resignation. There were many prior situations that challenged my ethical standards and brought me toward my final decision that I could not work for someone with standards that were so different from my own.
UOP’s Affect on the Author in Regard to Critical-thinking, Behavior and Decision-making
The primary affect the university’s program of study has had on this author is in broadening my awareness of what I’m doing as I analyze a situation. I have always been analytical by nature, enjoying puzzles as child and continuing into adulthood. I also believe that I am more likely to research and find support for the opinions I reach and present, while also being more self-confident in my approach to both personal and work situations. While I have always been open-minded to the ideas of others, I probably seek their opinions more, rather than just allowing them to enter my realm of thought by chance.
As we make our way through life, after our parents have hopefully provided us with a firm foundation, we determine those things, concepts or people that are most important to us. We then make the distinction between what is right or wrong in relation to what we feel is most important. These distinctions are what form our ethical standards and guide us through life’s situations - some easy, some not. Periodic review within the context of our life experiences aids in the reinforcement and possible modification of our ethical standards.
Merriam-Webster Online. (2005). Ethics. Retrieved July 31, 2005, from http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=ethics
Ruggiero, V. R. (2004). Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues (6th ed.). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.