June 2007 Archive
June 4, 2007
In ethics and in public relations we are often asked for advice.
There are many other professions such as legal, accounting and medical whose basic service is to offer advice. In our private lives we also give counsel to our family and friends. But are we entitled?
In a recent humorous article in The Onion, I read that (imaginary) Professor Fultz at the University of Chicago conducted a study that revealed that 38% of people or more than on third of the U.S. population is neither entitled nor qualified to have an opinion.
“We concluded,” said Prof. Fultz “that the opinions expressed were so off-base and ill-informed that they actually hurt society by being voiced.”
Seriously, what allow us to be an advisor or counselor? What are the attributes of a good advisor? Let me list a few. A good advisor should be:
1. A good listener: we should keep an open mind and have no preconceived ideas.
2. Knowledgeable: We need some knowledge and experience in the subject matter but if we feel we are not qualified, we should decline to offer advice.
3. Caring: Our advice should only be given if we really care about the consequences if our advice is taken.
4. Humble: We can never be absolutely sure that the advice we give is indeed the best advice.
5. Impartial: We have to make sure that the advice we give is not influenced by biases or motivated by any personal interest.
6. Honest: Sometime the advice to give is not easy to accept and we may be tempted to comprise in our response in order not to offend our interlocutor.
When people ask me for advice, I believe I can only offer to share my experience and indicate what I would do if I was in the same circumstances. Always remembering that I can never really be in someone else’s shoe, and that no two experiences are exactly the same.
Francis Bacon once said: He that gives good advice builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.
June 18, 2007
Connecticut State Senator Louis C. DeLuca was arrested and charged last week for going too far in trying to protect a family member from abuse, according to state and federal authorities.
Senator DeLuca said: “I tried to protect a family member who was vulnerable, who was in a physically abusive domestic relationship, and who needed help. My family and I went to the police three times to get help for my relative, but the police said that they couldn’t help because the victim wouldn’t file a complaint.”
He contacted a mobster who offered to have someone “pay a visit” to the alleged perpetrator, most likely to scare him off and stop the abuse. We do not know if this “visit” ever took place and whether the abuse continued. Senator DeLuca was charged with conspiracy to threaten.
Where is the line between a warning and a threat? It could depend on the nature of the action considered. If the considered action is illegal, then it is a threat, if it is not, then it could be just a warning.
We sometimes take foolish measures when we think that we have no alternatives. “I had no choice” is rarely true, and most often an excuse. Ethics is about making choices between alternatives. We always have options particularly in our society where the rule of law prevails.
What could have been the alternatives in this situation?
The general rule in the US is that there is no legal obligation to report a crime. Certain professions such as teachers, physicians, lawyers, and clergy are required to report such crimes as child abuse. However, as responsible citizens, I believe we have a moral obligation to do so.
One alternative would be of course to confront the alleged perpetrator. Even if it is met with a denial, the confrontation might just be what is necessary to stop the abuse. The perpetrator will know that his actions have not gone un-noticed and that negative consequences might fallow if he or she continues.
The most challenging alternative is to try to persuade the victim to come forward. Maybe a convincing argument is that the victim is not doing it for himself or herself alone but for other potential future victims.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.
June 25, 2007
Tom Friedman, in his article "Behind the Masks"makes the observation, in speaking about the conflict between Hamas and Fatah that the two reasons people wear masks are to inflict fear and to hide from shame. In our society, he notes, only the burglars, the rapists and the KKK wear masks.
But are we not all wearing masks?
Adin Steinsalts, the renowned author and philosopher, says in his book Simple Words that we do. He believes that we always play one role at one time and another role at another time, but we wear masks almost all the time. We humans are never completely naked. It is part of human nature. We assume roles that may sometimes not really be who we are. We also deeply care about how others see us and want to protect that image especially if it is positive!
However, the anonymity that a mask provides can also facilitate deception and allow negative behavior. Masks are also used during carnivals, when behind a mask a respectable citizen can ignore conventional rules of behavior and act inappropriately. Some people who behave very properly in society become anti-social behind the wheel. It was suggested that if the names of drivers were displayed on every vehicle, we would have more responsible driving.
Kimlyn Bender (winner of the Elie Wiesel prize on ethics) in her article "The Masks: The Loss of Moral Conscience and Personal Responsibility." points out that in the Lord of the Flies, Jack, the main protagonist found a freedom behind the mask that allowed him to commit "savage acts" which otherwise, his moral conscience would not allow.
Our behavior is often linked to our sense of identity. By wearing a mask we can try to hide our identity from others and falsely believe that we are no longer accountable.
Looking at ourselves in the mirror is probably a rare moment when we are not wearing a mask. It can also engage our conscience and allow a change in behavior.
As the Dalai Lama wrote in "Ethics for the New Millennium:
"I'm looking at the man in the mirror, I'm asking him to change his ways..."