Ethical Dilemmas

So last Saturday, after getting much more sleep than going into class on Friday, we returned to class for a one day module on Ethics.

I have to be honest: I wasn’t looking forward to it. In fact, one might argue that I was dreading it.

If you don’t have ethics by the time you’re entering a master’s degree program, you won’t ever (barring a work of the Spirit). That’s what I think, anyway.

So having an entire day of a class with average age of 40 studying ethics seemed like a colossal waste of time…something just put there for the accreditation folks.

So class starts out with a bit of that esoteric, morals vs. ethics, ethical frameworks, divisions of study stuff that I was expecting. But with a little more interaction than I had thought he’d be able to build with it.

And then we did some “case studies,” beginning with the stockholder vote from the Danny DeVito movie Other People’s Money from 1991. We were asked (with varying personas…either a mutual fund manager with 100,000 shares or a person with 100 shares who lives in the town) to make a decision on how to vote for a new board of directors. Here’s the videos of the stockholder presentations:

Video part 1


Part II

Then we voted. Rubber on the road.  How would you vote at this meeting?

Ethics, Dr. Buchko said, begin where the law ends. Something that’s illegal isn’t an ethical issue. It’s just illegal. It may be immoral, but ethics are what we do with moral foundations where the law does not speak. And making decisions will be done from our own ethical framework.

And if Nuremberg has taught us anything…it’s that people will follow leaders’ decisions even to the violence of their own personal ethics. So that should weigh on us as leaders that our ethics don’t just affect us…but others. And that those who follow us are unlikely to challenge any decisions we make on an ethical basis. Some strong persons will, but most will not.

I won’t bore you with going through the ontological and deontological ethical frameworks (assuming that I didn’t bore you with that sentence). I found the practical way Dr. B taught the class to be very helpful in that we went through real life cases (not counting the DeVito movie) and voted on what we thought was right or wrong. Issues past like the affirmative action suit the University of Michigan lost a few years ago. Or the hiring practices problems that were sued over at Abercrombie & Fitch.

A lot of good discussion followed in class and I think it was helpful for us to walk through the mental, ethical exercises together. And it reminded me that though I lean very libertarian on social practices like hiring and benefits, I also think that some things that ought to be legal are repugnant.

He gave us four questions you can ask yourself for evaluating the ethics of a decision:

  1. Would it be OK if everybody did this?
  2. If this decision was reported tomorrow on the front page of __________, would I be comfortable defending it?
  3. Can I explain this decision to a 5 year old?
  4. Is this a decision I would support if the person affected was a family member?

The class was very worthwhile. We finished up with a discussion of pornography. Buchko didn’t try to force any opinion on any of us (in fact, on all of the cases it would be tough to guess what he personal thoughts were), but brought the class to some great in-depth discussion about the issue and why it might be OK or wrong. The question “if there’s nothing wrong with it, why won’t the companies openly admit how much money they make from it?” was a burning one for some of my classmates, I think.

It should go without saying that I want my ethical framework to be founded on God’s Word and not my own opinions of those of the culture. The course, though I was surprised, provided some tools and thought processes that I can use even coming from an ethical framework we didn’t take time to discuss.

So have you ever had a big personal ethical dilemma at work? What did you do about it?

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