Ethics, law and us!

‘Ethics’ is discussed in three out of four of my courses this semester, not to mention ones in the previous semester. It is a really good thing people talking about ethics and emphasizing on the need to be an ethical person not just in one’s professional life but also in their personal life. I do not know if it is just me or there might be people who might share my belief. How exactly can ethics be taught or instilled in someone almost in their mid-life?

It is one thing to brief students/professionals on the guidelines of a professional ethics or an organization’s ethical code of conduct and a totally different thing to inculcate people with what is right according to the respective groups or organizations. ‘Ethics’ by itself is pretty vague. What is ethical for one person might not be ethical for another one. So how exactly can ethics even be defined? And when it isn’t even properly defined how do one inculcate it? Ethics is considered different from morality and legality. Now the difference between legality and ethics is well-marked but the subtle difference between morality and ethics is a though one to speak distinguish. Something immoral need not always necessarily be unethical.

I am personally of the opinion that ethics are imbibed at a much younger age when the mind is still absorbing things. At a formative age when the brain is assimilating things around, child would grow up to decide for itself certain values and principles it would lead the life by. For instance if a child grows up thinking it was okay to cheat in the exams, do you think he/she will ever understand later when they turn 30 that cheating of any form in the company is unethical? I know of an incident where a guy in my former company used to check mails of others in the department. It used to be casual initially and at one instance he accessed my boss’s mail to verify what he had heard about someone having complained against him. The passwords were known to each other in the department because of valid reasons plus we were only a few of us. It was assumed that every one of us knew we were not supposed to use the passwords to snoop into our colleague’s mails but when caught he refused to accept it was wrong on his part to have checked other’s mails for such a purpose.

So what this suggests is, ethics depends on each individual’s beliefs. Right and wrong are two strong ends, things are most often in the grey area which can neither be defined nor explicitly articulated. Studies have shown horrific results on human nature. The prison experiment at Stanford and Milgram experiment at Yale are a couple to name. The way human mind behaves is quite mysterious and at times scary.

When we witness something unethical happening around us, we are quick to judge. About people not standing up against or voicing about unethical behavior in spite of prior knowledge of things, we claim we would never do the same.The truth is all of us are the same. Given the same situation there is going to be hardly any difference in any of our reactions.

Anyway it is my belief that – “Ethics is not a luxury of a pauper”

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1 Comment

  1. Quick note. Further to your note on morality and legality as being distinct from ethics, ethical structures too can change with time and with circumstances. Therefore, beyond the basic universal ethical principles, all else is subjective.

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