Ethical Guidebook

A discussion of the difference between our personal values and our public ethics, how mature citizens can support both, and why our love for public ethics must trump our love for personal and group values when they conflict in the public space. Ethics offers a guidebook for evaluating public issues and finding multilateral solutions to endless cycles of values centric conflicts and unilateral violence.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thoughts on the importance of small crimes committed many times: how each of us deals with small ethical issues -

I find it easy to focus on ethical issues when there is a spike in behavior that is so egregious as to draw broad public attention.

But compared to the occasional major event, I am simply not very good at understanding the equally massive scope of small crimes committed many times, or at addressing them, even though they may occur in smaller, much more personally addressable instances.

This means there is some significance to how I choose to deal with the public ethics of small things as well as large. For example, winking at ethically questionable behavior is easy to do if the issue doesn't directly conflict with my personal values or disadvantage those more like me or who grew up closer to me, even when they add up to large burdens on those disadvantaged.

A common example is bullying behavior. If I perpetrate or recognize it, do I choose to consider it ok, or wink and ignore it if it is directed at those less like me or those who do not share my personal or group values? Or do I choose to not perpetrate or wink, but instead speak up for the importance of good public manners or befriend those being bullied? How we deal with bullying - whether in the context of schoolyard gangs, office politics, or racial issues - is an important ethical choice that greatly shapes the world we share, as much as how we participate in or respond to catastrophic, broadly discussed examples of unethical behavior.

Another simple example is the ethics of personally enjoyable or contextually 'necessary' personal or family self interest that affects resource consumption or pollution. Those personal value choices usually seem publicly common, innocuous, and even mundane, but scientifically have demonstrably large collective public environmental impacts that may greatly disadvantage others less like us or born into less fortunate starting circumstances, or affect all of us in the longer run.

So while I find it hard to stop and consider ethics when making personal value decisions - especially when they are in my near-term self-interest - clearly there is an ethical choice to be made when my small choices have cumulative major impacts on others.


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