February 2009 Archive
February 2, 2009
Governor Blagojevich was impeached and ousted last week by a unanimous vote of the Illinois State Senate. He now is facing many Federal charges and among them the one of influence peddling.
Don't we all exert some influence on people around us whether a spouse, a child, or in our social and professional lives? Our experience, knowledge, skills or function give us some authority on those we are in contact with.
One of the roles of public relations is to influence behavior of targeted audiences to either purchase the products or services of a client or to adopt a point of view on a particular issue that is favorable to the client.
How do we know that influence we exert is within the boundaries of what is acceptable and good ethical conduct?
Different cultures have different criteria. For instance in some cultures fathers have, what we consider in our culture, excessive influence on their daughters as to who they should or have to marry.
To prevent the abuse of our influence or authority, we should first check our motives and make sure that we do not benefit personally from the influence we have or at least that our potential benefit is not the primary motive of our action.
Secondly we have to make sure we are not using coercion, forcing someone to do something they do not want to do.
Thirdly, we have to be very careful not to manipulate. That is not always easy when you believe that the action you are trying to get others to take is the right one. David Rosen, a friend, the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland has a superb command of the English language and is a great speaker. He once told me that he was always aware of the risk of manipulating his audience by his oratory skills.
What ethical value can prevent us from using undue influence?
I believe it is respect.
Mark S. Putnam, the founder and president of Character Training Inc. and the author of the Business Ethics Advisor says that: "Ethical success depends on understanding the profound impact that respect has on your ethics and character."
As Immanuel Kant said:
"Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end."
February 10, 2009
The news that a woman in California gave birth to octuplets surprised many and shocked some. Nadya Sulemane, the 33-year old single mother of 6 is now mother of 14. Nadya planned or rather engineered the multiple births by having the six embryos, conceived in-vitro and placed in her womb. All of her 14 children were conceived that way and all have the same "father."
Nadya appeared on a number of television shows and seemed composed, apparently rational and totally dedicated to being a good mother. However, Nadya does not have a job and lives with her parents in a small apartment in Los Angeles. Her mother is the caretaker of the six older children. Nadya also assumes that her church will be willing and able to support her.
Her situation and how it came about has raised many questions among ethicists and the public in general.
There have been numerous cases of women taking fertility drugs because of their inability to conceive who found themselves pregnant with multiple babies. In this case however, the issue is one of shared responsibility.
1. Responsibility of the mother who took enormous health risks for herself and her children as well as the risk she took of not being able to provide both the emotional and financial support these children will need.
2. Responsibility of the medical profession that allowed or rather facilitated the multiple births. The physicians that performed the in-vitro fertilization share the risks taken by the mother and imposed on the children. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania said: "Medicine is not a restaurant, and doctors are not waiters, they need to have some professional responsibility when it comes to patients."
3. Responsibility of society that should have laws in place to prevent Mega-multiple engineered births. I am often wary of creating more laws to regulate ethical conduct, because it is difficult to legislate morality and because, I believe society should not necessarily criminalize unethical behavior. However in this case, I believe we need new laws. We already have laws that determine who is fit to be an adoptive or foster care parent, why not apply the same criteria to biological parents who plan on having multiple births as well? The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which set national standards, recommends that no more than two embryos be transferred at one time.
The etymology of the word "responsible" comes from the Latin word "respondere" which means giving an answer to, or being morally accountable for one's action.
As Victor Frankl once wrote:
"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."
February 23, 2009
The publication AM New York had on its cover last week the words Hall of Shame with the framed photographs of the athletes Barry Bonds, Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez accused of having using illegal steroids.
Time Magazine in its February 23rd, 2009 issue lists 25 people to blame for the present financial meltdown. Their photos are aligned in front of a white background, very much like a wall of shame.
Shame is a very powerful emotion. We always remember instances in our lives when we were shamed and we have difficulty forgiving whoever humiliated us in the past. We fear hearing the words "shame on you" or "you should be ashamed of yourself."
The words of Joe Welch, the Boston attorney to Senator Joe McCarthy on June 9th 1954, "Have you no shame, Senator?". still resonate in our collective historical memory. Overnight, McCarthy's immense popularity disappeared. It was the beginning of the end of his career.
In our present Western culture, shame is often seen as a sentiment to be banished. In a highly tolerant culture, where almost "anything goes" there is very little left to be ashamed of. Who today blushes? The absence of shame in our society may be one of the reasons for the general decline in civility.
However in other cultures, such as the Mid-Eastern and Oriental societies, shame or rather avoiding shame, plays a crucial role. In those cultures, it is of utmost importance to avoid losing face not only for oneself but also for the other.
The fear of shame can protect us from doing something unethical.
Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa, says in his book The Subtlety of Emotions that: "Shame is probably one of the most powerful emotions for moral behavior. Shame is closely connected with self-esteem and self-respect. Its emergence indicates that some of our most profound values are violated."
Shame or the fear of shame can be a very good indicator that we should exercise caution before taking an action that we think may cause us shame.
As the Roman first century philosopher Seneca once said:
"Shame may restrain what law does not prohibit."