Moral Flexibility

Ethics has been a big part of my readings so far and it really begs the question of what are we doing to be ethical in our day to day lives. I suppose a good start would be to ask yourself, “Am I ethical?” Are you generally an ethical person? Do you feel like you know what ethics are? How would you act in particular situations? I find it hard to begin working out hypotheticals because it leaves us saying, “Yeah well, I would have, but…” and in thinking about it, this is a phrase I hear many of my peers use.

So ethics, and I’m going to pull up a dictionary meaning here because I don’t want to be writing expose ( that ‘e’ is meant to have an acute accent, just role with it) all day, are; “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity.”

Okay, cool, so basically what we think is right and wrong? Now, of course, what you think is right will very often differ from what another person might think is right, they may even believe in quite the opposite. Say you think stealing is wrong, say your friend Barry is quite fond of swiping a couple chocolate bars from the corner store. You could turn to Barry and say, “Barry, what you did was quite immoral” in which you are invoking your perception of good morals, that of not stealing chocolate bars, and reiterating how you have moral ethics regarding chocolate bar theft. Now let’s get a little more complex.

I am ethically inclined to not steal things. That said, I have stolen several garden chairs on late night walks home, I’ve walked out of corner stores with milk before, and I’ve stolen a friends Digimon novel… but we won’t get into that. How can I be ethically inclined NOT steal yet still have stolen things in the past? Because ethics aren’t something that is black and white, yes or no, right and wrong. Ethics are similar to an individual’s Code Of Conduct. There’s a scene in Community which Jeff starts talking about how everyone man has a “Code”, now he’s referring to a way of life, not whether or not he’ll steal a garden chair, but I hope you see my point. So ethics, we having just talked about what is right and wrong, evolve to be this concept of what we as the individual see as right or wrong and not so much what the community sees. Or what Jeff sees. With his amazing haircut and flawless skin.  Moving on to industry practice.

I’ve literally touched on this for an hour in class, so this is the abbreviated version that is intentionally left vague and uses excessive metaphors to explain points, points I probably haven’t actually read about yet. I often tell people working in Public Relations is like being able to do any job that requires talking or strategic writing. Now if this sounds like I didn’t really give you an answer, it’s because I really didn’t AND ALSO MAYBE because you’ve been brain-washed into thinking PR is an amalgamation of spin, manipulation, lies, deceit, coercion, misdirection and more lies. In truth, it is. AND IT ISN’T AT THE SAME TIME. Who saw that one coming? Let’s compare.

PR is a lot of things, but what it isn’t, is lying. (Sorta). Lying, actually, seen by a lot of PR practitioners, is highly unethical. It’s actually in the handbook. Yes, there’s a handbook. In an ideal world, there should be no illusion in the PR industry. There should be just two-way communication and love. However, with competition between companies, different organisations needing to get a message out or see success for a campaign, PR can get a little guerrilla. That’s where the ethics of it all comes in. I’ll use the same example we used in class: Big Tobacco.

The question asked was if you were in PR professional for a tobacco company, could you ethically market and discuss the consumption of cigarettes? Let’s strip it down. Could you, in a health promotion class, for a Uni assignment, for example, asked to debate on behalf of cigarettes company, debate effectively and ethically enough to make a solid point? Well, you could, but you may have to put your own ethics aside and consider the ethics of big tobacco. I don’t want you rattling your head about it too much so just keep reading. I know I couldn’t, because even in this hypothetical situation I couldn’t put my ethics aside, because I don’t like lying, or fabricating white lies to the detriment of human life.

Wrapping up, I want you to walk away questioning your ethics. Do you just follow your gut when it comes to decisions? Do you believe the outcome of an action justifies the means? Or do you follow your duty to you friends, family or employer?

Would you steal a chocolate bar?




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