Why Ethics Matter

Updated on October 27, 2019
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Tessa Schlesinger has a strong interest in ethical behaviour as she maintains without it, communities and societies will eventually collapse

Why Ethics Are Important

Most people confuse morality with ethics. Morality generally refers to sexual behaviour and its dos and don’ts are generally related to a religious teaching. Ethics are rules in society that govern the greater good of the community, country, or world. While some ethics will be derived from religious teaching, other ethics are simply rules that have evolved over a period of time which safeguards the interests of the community. Of course, it could be argued that all religious morals and ethics evolved in the same way.

Many things are legal but not ethical
Many things are legal but not ethical

Examples of Ethics

Perhaps the ethic that most are familiar with is the law not to murder or kill. The reason is simple. Quite apart from someone not being able to live out their full life span, if there is rampant murder and killing in the community, the community lives in fear and eventually disintegrates at various levels. In order to function well and bring out the best in people, there needs to be a safe environment.

You only have to look at war zones to understand that if one is living in fear of one’s life, one isn’t exactly focusing on great new inventions.

Another example of an ethic might be not to cheat. Cheating does the community a great deal of harm. For example, you have an appointment with a doctor who graduated with honours the previous year. He is less expensive than those who have been in practice for a few years and you are low on budget. So, bearing in mind that he must know his stuff in order to have graduated cum laude, you call on him. You listen to his diagnoses, accept it all, and six months later discover that you have cancer and that he misdiagnosed.

You dig a little deeper and discover that there was a lot of talk about him being a bit of an idiot and that everybody was surprised when he graduated first class, but nothing could be proven.

Cheating harms the community.

So the ethic is not to cheat.

What an Ethical Business Looks Like

Can Self-Interest Ever Be Ethical?

It stands to reason that if one is self-interested, one will chose the path that is good for oneself and not for the greater good. Of course, there are times when the greater good and one’s own self-interest merge, but that is not the norm.

Take, for instance a businessman. The businessman’s prime goal is to make money.

A customer enters a business and wants to buy a green towel. The green towel will compliment everything else in the household. The businessman, however, only has pink towels and red towels. He spends thirty minutes convincing the client that the red will look good in her house and garners the sale. The lady goes home and, pleased as punch, asks her husband what he thinks of the towel. He says, “Nice dear.”

The lady is happy for three weeks until her daughter comes to visit and says, “What on earth possessed you to buy a red towel – it clashes with everything.”

On its own, it doesn’t amount to much. So one lady is unhappy and a businessman is happy.

However, multiply that incident over a million times happening throughout the community, the country, and/or the world. At a certain point in time, business becomes untrustworthy, and that results in another set of problems. Without trust, communities do not function well.

Ethics serve a purpose, and self-interest is generally not an ethical stance.

Many speak about business ethics, but while business is focused on profit for the few, it can never be ethical.

It’s safe to say that most people don’t even realize that fast fashion is an environmental problem. Most people don’t know that slaves (yes slaves, and mostly women and children at that) made their cheap crappy clothes.
It’s safe to say that most people don’t even realize that fast fashion is an environmental problem. Most people don’t know that slaves (yes slaves, and mostly women and children at that) made their cheap crappy clothes.

How to Determine if Behaviour is Ethical

When determining whether an action is ethical or not, it’s about asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Who benefits from my actions apart from myself?
  2. Who does my action harm by taking something away from them or putting them in a difficult position?
  3. Will the harm done have an impact on the community if that kind of action is repeated by everybody?
  4. How long will the harm last?
  5. Will the action have a negative impact on other aspects like the environment, other communities or countries, etc.?

Any behaviour that has a negative impact on another or others is unethical.

Let’s explore that a bit more.

Let’s talk about talking about others, i.e. gossip.

Janice starts work at the office. She appears offish and focuses on her work. Dee and the other girls in the office want to know all about her. She declines to comment and is generally quiet and keeps to herself. Soon the office gossip is discussing everything about her – the bow she wore in her hair the previous day, the phone call she received that left her in tears, and the fact that she left the office one minute early.

Janice is an excellent worker. Nobody can fault her on that. However, soon the office manager hears the gossip and realizes that Janice isn’t liked. When her review comes up, Janice doesn’t get an increase (which she desperately needed as she is looking after her ailing mother), and the manager asks her instead to focus on getting along with the others. When it comes to her work, he notes that it’s excellent and he has no problem with that. His only problem is that Janice is not getting on with others.

So Janice is harmed. In the process, as is her mother, because now Janice doesn’t have the much needed money to help her mom. In desperation, she turns to social welfare using up the taxes of citizens who don’t want to pay tax. They then begin to moan because there are so many people ‘sponging’ of their ‘hard earned cash.’

This means that gossip is unethical. It has an enormously destructive impact on others, and the consequences are far reaching. Yet most people who gossip never think about that. At most, they are unthinking people who either wish to feel better about themselves or wish to hurt the person they are gossiping about.

Do you think of the harm done to the environment every time you buy a pair of blue jeans?

See results
Three reports have been published this month in Science that add to our limited but growing data on the causal link between fluid injections and earthquakes.
Three reports have been published this month in Science that add to our limited but growing data on the causal link between fluid injections and earthquakes. | Source

Manufacturing Often Destroys Our Environment, Therefore Not Ethical

One great example of how the manufacturing process if often unethical is fracking. Scientists have established that drilling down is the cause of earthquakes.

Where once upon at time, the manufacture of blue jeans comprised cotton and sewing, that is no longer the case. In a time when there is less and less drinking water available for humanity, each pair of denim uses of 1500 gallons of water which then washes away with polluting chemicals into the countryside.

While we are all aware (these days) of the havoc wrought by plastic bags in the sea, are we aware of how much toxic waste is spewed out in their making?

The More People There Are, the More Important it is to be Ethical

When people are universally unethical, life becomes extremely stressful for most people. Violence will eventually erupt and systems will begin to break down.

When government makes weapons of war that destroys our environment and when business, in its search for increasing profits, manufacturers articles that are destructive to humanity in the medium to short term, this is unethical behaviour.

When consumers buy these products, they are supporting their production. This is unethical.

We need to look more closely at our own choices because we need to practice ethical choices. And that doesn't mean buying fairtrade coffee.

© 2016 Tessa Schlesinger


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