Morals, ethics and values
HELEN DRAYTON Sunday, July 1 2012
Events occur virtually every week which demonstrate that the approach to problem resolution is chaotic and less than productive. There appears to be no critical thinking through problems and the logical consequences of decisions one way or another by all parties involved. Stakeholders miss opportunities for viable solutions because of insularity.
Often, citizens generate a lot of emotion without having the facts. Their sole source of information is media reports with dramatic visuals. Obviously, there are deeper issues motivating outrage. This centres on their expectations and their lack of trust in institutions of democracy.
This is not a situation which came about yesterday. It accrued over many years of social injustice, waste, greed, lack of law enforcement, and the authorities’ failure to prosecute white-collar crime. Citizens juxtapose such a situation with enthusiasm by the very authorities to bring ordinary people, without political connections and money, to justice. Recent research on citizens’ perception of the police and the justice system bears this out.
This column does not advocate breaking the law. It recognises citizens’ democratic right to protest, and government’s need to implement policies. It recognises that people, understandably, would take measures to protect their homes – which represent family joys, sorrows, struggles, aspirations and memories. It is the container of their lives, and a legacy for their children. That is not irrational or selfish behaviour, particularly, if they feel that there are options for a resolution. It is legitimate to question whether a project represents progress, but to go there is to sidestep the real issues facing the nation, which includes lawlessness.
The core of lawlessness is unethical behaviour. There appears to be a lack of understanding of work ethic and ethics, and that what is unethical conduct is not necessarily illegal conduct. There will be concerns among the citizenry when there is acceptance by leaders that unethical or questionable behaviour is a satisfactory standard as long as a job gets done.
Conversely, without justification, no fair minded person would advocate that innocent citizens be denied a position, but there should be above average standards and doubts should be put satisfactorily to rest.
Ethics are codified standards of moral principles, which guide judgment, about what is right and wrong. Many companies have codes of ethics, as does the government for parliamentarians, including ministers. It is not a legal document but contains a set of principles guiding conduct in public office. These are objective principles which could be measured, such as conflict of interest and transparency.
On the other hand, morals are personal values shaped by influencers such as upbringing and religion. While we use the terms ethics and morals interchangeably, there is a difference. It is harder to measure morals because of the subjective nature. For example, at Carnival time, simulation of sexual acts by masqueraders wearing one strand of dental floss … add crown corks over nipples … may be deemed immoral conduct by many people. Yet for others, such behaviour is merely street theatre. Across countries, moral standards differ.
However, universally, societies accept that stealing, lying, fraud and other nefarious behaviours are both unethical and illegal, while to cheat in an exam or to breach a code of ethics may not be illegal actions, although unethical.
What then are values? Values are subjective assessments made about the relative worth of something. Examples will be the value placed on family life, prestige of political office and financial security. Values function as criteria for making ethical choices. If getting rich, quickly, is a strong value, then it may promote excessive risk taking, and corrupt practices. If winning public office and feeding ego are priority values, then the approach may be that the ends justify the means.
Citizens want to see their country settle down to serious business of nation building. They want to build on a solid base for a viable social and economic future. Inflation is running over 12 percent. Productivity and job security are concerns, and most pressing of all, they want crime to go down.
Virtually every week since May 24th 2010, the manner in which public officials have conducted affairs generated unnecessary public distractions. The perpetrators of such distractions then behaved as though they were victims at the hands of detractors. Law enforcement should be pursued in a disciplined, diligent manner. If a protestor’s camp is to be lawfully dismantled so be it. Allow the Police Commissioner to order the police to do it responsibly. Why tow the media for drama and continue to masquerade in cameras like Dragon and Jab Jab spitting fire, and lashing wind? Already, the Midnight Robber costume is unflattering, and embarrassing. In the future, why should citizens believe that actions of the police and army are not politically motivated?
Many citizens feel let down and demoralised by the perceived low standards of conduct. They expect that leaders would explore complex issues toward making wise decisions, be fair in the pursuit of justice, seek public interests over ego and private interests; and respect contrasting opinions. The public has a history of dealing decisively with those who do not adhere to these ethical principles.