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An Ethical Dilemma

Through various professional and academic bodies I’ve taken a range of “corporate ethics” tests relating to the workplace, governance and technical acumen.  Most of them have been a series of questions that provide a profile or continuum of ethical standing, but there was one test I recently completed that had a correct answer provided in the “expert’s opinion”.  More often than not my answer aligned with my anonymous invigilator, but there were some questions that I got completely “incorrect”.

Some of the ethical dilemmas assessed were posed as follows:

  •  “I don’t have to worry about the moral values of others so long as I set my own moral values”.
  • “Laws, rules, and moral principle should take into consideration whether someone’s feelings will be hurt”
  • “Whether a lie is ethical or unethical depends on the circumstances”
  • “Ethics does not always equate to rightness”
  • “The law should not be the sole basis for determining what is moral”
  • “Morality and Ethics are equal concepts. There are no common moral standards in most societies”

When reflecting on the ethics test from a corporate standpoint, there seems to be a greater construct towards an absolute position.  Whether it is a code of conduct, and employment contract, or a policy document, there are obligations, responsibilities, and more frequently a defined behaviour that is clear and unambiguous.  Above and beyond that there is a corporate culture, being an unwritten set of expectations and behaviours that reflect the type of entity that is an ‘ecosystem’ within itself.

Outside of the workplace, a different set of standards apply.  We have laws and compliances and a system of justice to regulate and enforce societal conduct.  However within that framework we have a less “rules oriented” environment and fewer requirements of self-regulation.

As a Jewish person who studies texts relating to ethical conduct and contemplates the ethics of ethical dilemmas and decision making on a daily basis, I find I am able to apply Jewish ethical constructs to my decision making both within and beyond the workplace.  It allows me to establish a discipline, and it conditions me towards sensitivity to others.  The Jewish ethical teachings cause me to think through the consequences of my actions and speech prior to responding to a situation.

I am sure that it is similar for other cultures and faiths that their traditions and ethics become a beacon and guide to their conduct.  On the whole, a faith or principled based ideology is likely to provide for greater moral standing on the basis of a structure and tradition that delivers a framework.  The alternative is to have no moral arbiters.  There may be little wrong with judging each situation on its merit, but without a barometer or benchmark to contrast ones judgement, a context is then lost.

Whilst I have long since resigned myself to recognising that investigative journalism is a relic of the past, I become increasingly frustrated with a media that discards basic moral decency in the pursuit of sensationalism, headlines, and a narrative that will pique an interest in a story at the expense of people’s privacy and security, all devoid of context and perspective.

In the case of Israel, the obsession with demonising the defensive actions of a nation under attack is nauseating.  The truth is sacrificed in a campaign of media bias that is scarcely believable in terms of what the media are actually permitted to feed us.  They determine their own moral standing, driven by the dollar, and not by what is right, true or in the public interest.  They scream out “balance” while our politicians call for “restraint on both sides” condemning both Israel and Hamas as if they were of equal moral standing.

As noted by former AP correspondent Matti Friedman, Israel is not an idea, a symbol of good or evil, or a litmus test for liberal opinion at dinner parties. It is a small country in a scary part of the world that is getting scarier.

Australia is not immune from the resurgent Jew-hatred dressed up as 21st Century moralising that is sweeping the Western world.  It is being driven by a lack of integrity on the part of our media, and absorbed by societies, both Godly and Godless, who consider basic ethics and morality as a matter of subjective self-serving judgement

There are many timeless and enduring Jewish ethics that have been promulgated through monotheistic theology into universal ethical study.  The Torah dictum to “love your fellow as yourself” and Rabbi Akiva’s precept not to do to others what you would not wish to have thrust upon yourself (the “Golden Rule”) are amongst them.

How we seem to have forgotten that actions have consequences, and that an absolute truth is not open to distortion or inversion, has led us astray.  I am not suggesting that we all have to agree on every character trait, lifestyle, or belief system.  However we do need to have ethical guidelines that do enough to distinguish between right and wrong.

I failed to get the answer right in the test when I challenged the statement “I don’t have to worry about the moral values of others so long as I set my own moral values”.  I strongly disagree with the statement.  I have no right to set the moral values of others, but I have an obligation to speak out when the moral values of others stray from the framework of basic decency and tolerance.

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