Skip to main content
Updated date:

Why Ethics Matter

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

Wars may be legal, but are they ethical? The law can be wrong, and waging war against another country may be unethical.

Wars may be legal, but are they ethical? The law can be wrong, and waging war against another country may be unethical.

Why Ethics Are Important

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. The legislature of a country does not generally determine ethics for its citizens. Countries tend to be concerned with ensuring order, maintaining control, and keeping the status quo intact. The status quo normally means ensuring that the top 1% retain their position at the top. This is the opposite of what ethics do. Ethics involve doing good for the entire community.

Examples of Ethics

Perhaps the ethic that most people in westsern cultures are familiar with is the ethic not to kill. This ethic is so intrinsic to both Judaism and Christianity that it has been absorbed into all western legal structures.

It's good to examine why murder has always been outlawed. It is because it destroys the spirit of trust and cooperation within the community, and without that spirit of trust and cooperation within the community, the community wouldn't survive.

This does not mean that murder and killing has been outlawed in every community. There are some communities where they have become essential to the survival of a particular type of fundamentalist community. For instance, the Koran states that anyone who does not believe in Allah should be killed. In Hinduism, if a child marries outside their religion, the parents kill them. This ensures that everybody in those communities live in the same way and obey the same laws. It means there is little or no discord which is good for the long term survival of the community. The murders are not seen as crimes but as obedience to their god.

Another example of an ethic might be not to cheat. The point of testing is to find out how skilled someone is at something. This means that people who don't pass examinations don't have sufficient knowledge to do a particular job (doctor, for example). So if they cheat, and then they become a doctor, they are endangering people's lives. This is not good for the community.

Ethics always have to do with the the actions that result in the greater good of the community. Unethical actions always result in eventual destruction. Morality is a little different. It generally has to do with sexual mores - although that meaning is now fading and people use ethics and morality interchangeably.

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 one businessman is happy. However, multiply that situation a million times over, and eventually business owners become very rich by selling something to customers regardless of whether the customer is happy or not.

Eventually a climate of distrust develops, and that results in another set of problems. Without trust, communities do not function well. We need to be able to trust those who supply us with goods.

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

Many speak about business ethics, but business is focused on their own profit, and it can never be ethical if their self-interest promotes influencing the customer to make choices in the interests of the business.

The fashion industry is responsible for 1/3 of the pollution on earth. How can manufacturing fashion items be ethical?

The fashion industry is responsible for 1/3 of the pollution on earth. How can manufacturing fashion items be ethical?

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. Does my action pollute the world in some way - even indirectly?
  2. Is someone being paid such a low wage for the product I am buying that they are living in unsafe circumstances because the money earned is insufficient?
  3. Is someone being killed, mocked, working in unsafe circumstances by my purchase?
  4. Will what I say about someone else impact unfairly on them?

Read More From Soapboxie

Any behaviour that has a negative impact on life is unethical.

Here are some examples.

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, so is her mother. That's 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.

Manufacturing and Mining Often Destroys Our Environment,

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

Consider the production of blue denim jeans. 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?

We seriously need to consider the ethics involved in the way we produce goods as well as the reasons why we produce them.

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.

Bill Gates Thinks We Need to do More to Combat Climate Change

Fracking Causes Earthquakes.

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

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

When there is profit in military weapons, or when manufacturers produce fabrics like viscose which heavily pollute our air, or when hunters pay tens of thousands to shoot animals which are virtually extinct, we are condoning unethical actions.

When consumers support these 'products,' they become part of an unethical lifestyle.

We need to look more closely at our own choices. We need to make the effort to personally check out the root of production for our purchases. This means not taking the word of the person selling it to us, but going out of our way to find out more about the product we wish to purchase. Often we can find that information by researching it on the web or by reading what the competiton has to say.

In order to save our world, we will need to buy less, buy more wisely, be kinder and more ethical in our treatment of others, and we also need to look beyond ourselves to make a better world for everybody.

It's not an easy thing to do, but it can be done if we all work together.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2016 Tessa Schlesinger

Related Articles