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.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ask Candidates About Their Public Ethics

Asking Romney - and other candidates - about their personal values and faith is essentially a private matter. In a Democracy, a person's personal faith and values – or even a lack thereof - should arguably not be a public issue or even a criteria for public leadership. Democracy is inherently designed to maximize private choices in values and faith by leaving it out of public decisions. After all, even the Pilgrims chose to have a secular leader to make sure evolving interpretations of faith did not dictate justice.

The question we should ask candidates is this - “Do you believe that public ethics and Democratic principles should always trump personal beliefs and values, when different values conflict?” Voters and journalists need to ask this ethical question as well as 'values' questions whenever we examine candidates, discuss issues, go to the voting booth, or make any kind of public decision that affects others, because Democracy depends on it. Public ethics means loving the Democratic principles, processes, institutions, and laws that assure far play, due process, and rule of law, regardless of differences in values and faiths. Without ethics, we will not sustain the Democratic freedom to have different personal values and faiths.

To put this in simpler terms, if values are like our love for the Packers (pick your team), then ethics are like our love of the game of football. It takes strong ethical leadership and support at all levels - coach, player, referee, fan, and even cheerleader - to uphold the rules of the game, fair play, and the institutions and frameworks that sustain a level playing field with opportunity for other teams as well as our own. In the public space, ethical leadership and support means upholding the ethics and principles that define Democracy and finding ways to achieve solutions through coalitions and unbiased arbitration of differences, even when others cheat or our home team takes a hit.

We all have strong values within our born or chosen families,groups, religions, nations, and teams. But these values must never trump our love of public ethics in the public space and when we vote and make public decisions, because values based decisions are inherently self-serving and the result is monarchy, theocracy,oligarchy, and other populist systems with deep shared values but non-democratic outcomes.

Mature citizens and great elected officials love both ethics and values and say Yes when asked to put public ethics above home team values when they conflict. This question, and this question alone, uniquely assures that the team in power will not put winning at all costs, demonization of the enemy, and stretching the rules to favor the current team, above the core patriotic principles and ethics necessary to sustain participatory Democracy.

We need to know our leaders are up to it.


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