The Fools Guide to Ethics
“A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.”
George Bernard Shaw
I will try to keep this brief as I know we are all especially busy these days and wish for a quick fix to all things that trouble us.
Ethics – the study of the question of what ought we to do or how one can live a good life.
Traditional teaching and thinking around ethics is flawed due to the assumption that man is a rational being – he is not, you are not, we are not – we are emotional irrational flickering flames of light that all the time make errors of judgement due to perceptual bias, confirmation biases and our inherent need to be right.
#1 SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS POISON – BE A FOOL INSTEAD
We all have what’s called a Moral Identity – a way that we see ourselves. The more attached you are to your moral identify the less willing you will be to reassess your self-assessment and admit you were wrong. In plain English the more self-righteous you are the more willing you will be to commit terribly unethical acts and then try to justify them in some warped and convoluted way. See religious fundamentalists of all persuasions for examples.
Be a fool instead – let go of the need to be RIGHT and accept instead that you may be WRONG. Aspire to live universal values such as freedom, equality, unity, honour, patience, truth, empathy, impartiality.
#2 WHEN IN DOUBT DO NOTHING
Because of our inherently flawed nature we humans can jump to wild conclusions, get emotionally charged and then rush off to take action that we may later regret. Research shows that one of the key issues in resolving ethical dilemmas is that we don’t recognise the issues in the first place due to moral blind spots.
Your best indicator that you’re being confronted with an ethical dilemma is not your head but your heart and gut. You will get a FEELING that something is wrong. Processing this through the head and the rational faculties of the human mind may not help to resolve the issue and acting with no clear resolution may make things worse.
So – when in doubt DO NOTHING.
#3 WHAT’S YOUR MORAL INTENT
So, now maybe you’ve calmed down a bit. Taken some time out, resisted the temptation to go out and strangle someone and carefully avoided going into self-righteous judgement and critical damnation of someone.
Now you need to ask – What do I want to create?
And specifically – What are the Moral Boundaries of this creation? These boundaries should ideally be defined using intrinsic or universal values such as freedom, honour, equality etc. These are distinct from instrumental values that have no value in themselves but only through what they create – for instance profitability, efficiency etc.
See the diagram below for a graphic illustration
#4 WHAT’S YOUR DECISION?
Yes – we live in a cause and effect world so bottom line is you need to make a decision to ACT – but just before you jump up and run off to implement let’s test it.
#5 HAVE YOU NEUTRALISED YOUR MORAL INTENT?
Here’s where it gets tricky because we humans can be very adept at using rationalisations to neutralise our moral intent and hence create bad outcomes that we justify to ourselves so we don’t have to reassess our moral self-identity.
You need to check that you haven’t used one of the following 7 moral neutralisations:-
1. Denial of Responsibility – “It’s not my fault”
2. Denial of Injury – “It’s not hurting anyone”
3. Denial of the Victim – “They deserved it”
4. Condemnation of the Condemners – “You think I’m bad but you should see them”
5. Appeal to Higher Loyalties – “I did it for you”
6. Everyone else is Doing It – “I had no choice but to follow suit”
7. Claim to Entitlement – “I deserve it”
These neutralisations will neutralise the intrinsic values that create the moral boundaries for your intended outcome. If you have neutralised the moral boundaries then you may be creating something that is unethical but justifying to yourself why this is fair or just.
Hence – if you look at the diagram you will see that outside of the Moral Boundaries there is another ring which is your concept of Justice.
The ultimate test is whether or not you can live with your conscience – if you truly believe you have done a bad thing then you will be haunted by your own conscience. Justifications which neutralise moral boundaries allow a person to do bad things and then justify it to themselves so that they believe they are acting fairly and in a just way.
So – have you neutralised your moral intent or is it intact?
If it has been neutralised I suggest going back to step 1 and considering another action.
#6 BE GENTLE AND PATIENT
Some people may not like what you’ve decided to do. Some people may accuse you of being a fool. Some people may try to convince you that they know the future and if you do this then that will happen and then…
In the wee hours of the morning when you lie in bed in the darkness listening to the silence you will be accountable to your conscience – fear has no place here.
Be gentle with yourself and others and be patient.
The wheels of justice turn very slowly but grind very finely.
In peace and love always.