I have just listened to Waleed Aly talking about Ethics on Radio National and as far as I am concerned he has it all wrong. He said that ethics that is taught in schools should teach children to be smarter. Now what did he mean by ‘smarter’? If it is ‘smart’ to always do the right and honourable thing, then I guess he is correct. But I don’t think he meant that. I think he meant as in academically smarter: In which case ethics has nothing to do with smartness.
A person, who chooses to do something, knowing that it will be frowned upon or condemned by society at large and that its effect will be harmful, is unethical.
It is much easier to describe unethical behaviour than it is to describe ethical behaviour. It is unethical to cheat, lie, deceive, dupe, steal, to be overly critical and judgemental: the latter being very different from making a judgement. I have an old blog somewhere on Judgement vs Judgemental. I will post it when I find it. Then there is good criticism and poor criticism. Poor is unethical of course as it does harm to the victim. Good criticism encourages the person to do better because they are capable of it. But still should only be at the request of the criticised. Let me give you an example here: A piano teacher scolds her student for not doing finger exercises. If the student has a reasonable reason as to why they had not done any exercises, but looks pleased to do them in future and next lesson is much improved to the joy of all concerned, then it has been beneficial criticism. But let’s say the same teacher has another student who also has not done any exercises and the teacher admonisher her causing the child to cry and cower, a judgement needs to be made, not a criticism. This child is not suited to piano lessons and should stop going to class. The judgement is ethical, based on the child’s needs. The admonishment was not.
Breaking a promise could be unethical as well, depending on the promise and who it was made to. If someone asks another person can you keep a promise and the person answers ‘yes’, then proceeds to tell that person that they have done something really bad. It was naïve of the second person to answer ‘yes’ without knowing the secret. But if a builder promises to complete a building for X amount of dollars, in X amount of time then demands more money. The whole situation is unethical. Fraud is unethical.
It is ethical to run a business to benefit society and staff.
It is ethical to volunteer.
It is ethical to give back what you have borrowed in the same condition it was lent to you.
It is ethical to put everything correctly on your resume.
It is ethical to have good manners, although this is debatable. My good manners may not be the same as yours. For instance it is not necessary to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ about everything. Over doing politeness can be irritating. However an ethical person is always polite in business dealings.
I could easily write a school program on Ethics and I would love to do it if someone paid me to do it.