One of the courses I took last semester was Journalism Ethics and Diversity. Our final assignment involved writing a personal code of ethics accompanied by an explanation of how we arrived at the conclusions in that code. I have decided to share this with all of you, my dedicated readers, in hopes that you may find it helpful in your own lives. As with everything else on this blog, all constructive feedback is appreciated.
Ethical Development Overview
“Living in a way that is transparent. It means allowing light to pass through with little or no interruption or distortion so that objects on the other side can be clearly seen, to be completely open and frank about things.” (Gilligan 236)
Ethical development in my life seems to focus primarily on an evolution from a rights based approach to Carol Gilligan’s ethics of caring theory combined with Sissela Bok’s concept of consulting one’s conscience and engaging in discussion with experts prior to making decisions. Louis Hodges’ circles of intimacy theory on privacy and trust also factor heavily in the way I form and maintain relationships.
Many aspects of my life as a person with a disability have compelled me to focus on protecting my rights to equality of opportunity in endeavors such as education and employment. Staunch accessibility evangelism has, from time to time, caused me to insist on enforcement of existing disability rights laws and to show a willingness to bend established rules in order to reach a desired, fair outcome. In this regard, especially when interacting with unknown individuals or those I deem to be on the wrong side of an issue, I have employed a strictly rights based ethical approach much like that suggested by Lawrence Kohlberg. (Patterson and Wilkins 343) In this way, correct results are my primary aim, there are times when the ends justify the means and making friends is definitely not high on the list of priorities.
When it comes to close friends and relatives, those in my second and third circles of intimacy, (Patterson and Wilkins 154) my approaches are much different. I focus on maintaining strong connections with those closest to me. In many cases, I place their needs and desires above my own when making important decisions. The relationship holds the highest priority over all other considerations. Despite a tough, no-holds-barred public exterior, I am actually a person who craves acceptance and approval, especially from those about whom I care the most.
“We sat watching the candles burn down. Stars spinning in their distant constellations. Maybe love is the revolutionary emotion, the true freedom, because it releases something in ourselves…” (Gilligan 153)
The justice oriented approach has, thus far, served me quite well most of the time in professional and public life. My parents won the right for me to attend public high school in 1987 after winning a settlement in Federal court. I have successfully employed similar approaches in order to retain employment, save my wife’s job and bring accessibility advocacy efforts to a positive conclusion. In the public sphere, the way I have done business has largely equated to Kohlberg’s scenario in which a husband justifies stealing a lifesaving drug from the pharmacist in order to care for his terminally ill wife. My struggle has always been how to merge the caring ways in which I interact with those closest to me with the harsher rights based manner by which I have dealt with the rest of the world.
“A good listener will refrain from judgment, respect the narrator, and be willing to experience some of the terror, grief, and rage.” (Cote & Simpson 234)
In Carol Gilligan’s work leading to the theory of the ethics of caring, women were questioned about Kohlberg’s pharmacist scenario. (Patterson and Wilkins 344) By and large, their answer was to form a connection with the pharmacist in order to make a mutually beneficial arrangement that would enable him to justify handing over the drug. Many in my inner circle have suggested, and I believe they are right, that I ought to place a greater effort in demonstrating my caring nature to the wider world. Combined with the advocacy experience I have already established, they contend the results obtained would be even better. I would not only have accessibility and greater opportunities but I would also have new friends in my corner.
In class, I have learned about an ethical theorist whose model may represent a useful bridge between Kohlberg’s and Gilligan’s theories. Sissela Bok (Patterson and Wilkins 5) suggests a three-step ethics model in which we consult our conscience, seek advice from experts and conduct a public discussion of an issue prior to making an informed ethical decision. This is something I realize I already do on a frequent basis when I informally consult my closest friends and, sometimes, engage in wider discussions on the Internet as I move forward with my advocacy work.
“Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed.” (Bok 67)
This statement from Bok nicely sums up my personal code of ethics. It is a merging of traditional, old-world Western Judeo-Christian values and new ideas about how we can all be more caring and inclusive of everyone in our decision making. The journalism ethics and diversity course has given me a more systematic understanding of the concepts behind the ethical decisions I make on a daily basis and has acquainted me with new ideas I can apply as I confront future challenges.
Code of Ethics
- Always demonstrate the greatest loyalty to my closest friends and relatives through actions, feelings and words.
- Protect the equality of opportunity and self-determination of everyone, regardless of their age, disability, gender, race and any other condition or circumstance outside their control.
- Treat others as I would like to be treated.
- Actively seek and tell the truth without omission unless full disclosure would harm an innocent person.
- Whenever possible, seek advice from experts and close associates before making important decisions. Consult my “personal board of directors.”
- Equally consider the relationships between all involved parties as well as their rights and obligations when making all decisions.
- Hold myself and everyone else accountable, as appropriate, for the consequences of actions taken.
- Respect the religious beliefs and political ideologies of everyone without prejudice.
- Advocate for accessibility for people with disabilities to participate equally in society to those without disabilities. Accessibility is a right!
- Always ensure that my life is an expression of traditional values such as caring, dedication, hard work, loyalty and trust.
- Bok, Sissela. Common Values. University of Missouri Press; Columbia, MO. 1995, 2002
- Cote, William & Simpson, Roger. Covering Violence: A Guide to Ethical Reporting about Victims & Trauma. Columbia University Press; New York, NY. 2006
- Gilligan, Carol. Kyra. Random House; New York, NY. 2008
- Patterson, Philip and Wilkins, Lee. Media Ethics: Issues and Cases. McGraw-Hill; Columbus, Oh. 2008