“Keep alive in your hearts
the feeling of confidence
that the light of knowledge
will inevitably dispel
the clouds of ignorance,
the conviction
that concern for justice
will ultimately conquer
hatred and enmity.
[... The] proper response to oppression
is neither to succumb in resignation
nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor.
The victim of oppression
can transcend it
through an inner strength
that shields the soul
from bitterness and hatred
which sustains
consistent principled action.” UHJ 2009

There is such a contrast between the use of the term “principled action” when used here for healing the human spirit and the way it is used in writings referring to doing ethics, applied ethics, ethics talk. Is it about words or deeds?

“Keep alive in your hearts” calls to all of us to sustain consistent principled action freed from bitterness and hatred even when oppressed, refuse to resign to victimization,  be careful not to respond to oppression by taking on the characteristics of the oppressor, struggle to continue to believe that knowledge will overcome ignorance, that justice will conquer injustice, nurture and maintain  inner strength that will sustain us through the most ethically distressing dilemmas of our lives, nurture confidence when you feel doubt, seek knowledge instead of vengeance. This far transcends concepts of ethical codes and minimal ethical standards.

“Some people confuse acting in good conscience with “doing ethics”. While personal good conscience is necessary for acting ethically, it is not sufficient.  There is also confusion of so-called “codes of ethics’ which are really codes of professional etiquette – for instance, between physicians or between lawyers – or which define unprofessional conduct, with codes of ethics properly so-called. Just because certain conduct does not breach professional norms, does not necessarily mean that it is ethical [...] “Doing ethics”, especially by an ethicist, requires one to undertake an informed structured analysis that will assist in the identification and prioritisation of the full range of values relevant to, or affected by, the various decision options that are open in any given situation. It is inevitable that one’s own values come into play, but they should be identified as such and the other people involved advised of this. I sometimes imagine that “doing ethics” can be compared with opening a beautiful, intricately painted fan. The struts are the different schools of ethics, or the fundamental bases of the alternative analyses that could be used. The fabric that joins the struts may display one or several scenes. When we all agree on the outcome, although we do so for different reasons, we are choosing a different location in the one scene. When we disagree on the outcome, we are identifying several scenes and arguing that one scene is fundamental and should take priority in setting the overall tone or interpretation of the painting that the artist has portrayed on the fan, and that the other scenes must be interpreted in light of this. We all need to learn how to do ethics, even if we do not always succeed in doing this. “Doing ethics” is not a simple task; it is a process, not an event; and, in many ways, no matter in which capacity or context we do ethics, it is a life-long learning experience. The most important requirement, however, is that we all engage in that process, that is, we all participate in “ethics talk” (Somerville 2006).


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