The word ethics is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’ which can mean a custom, habit, character or disposition. To most, ethics is an arrangement of moral principles which influence how we make decisions and conduct our lives. It would be true to say that ethics is never black and white and lays within a wide range of perceived right action. Many people would never steal a car but would not think twice about taking some stationery from work. So it appears that our personal ethics fall within a sliding scale shaped by our values, upbringing, religious beliefs and other social settings. Although most people acquire their sense of right and wrong during childhood, moral development occurs throughout life and human beings pass through different stages of growth as they mature
At some point in our lives we are going to be faced with an ethical dilemma. By applying a set of moral criteria we may explore the ethicality of our actions. The following criteria ( Carlopio, Andrewartha & Armstrong 1997) are a useful test to apply when faced with an ethically challenging situation.
- Congruence test: Does this decision violate any of the values which I claim are important to me?
- Front-page test: Would I feel embarrassed if my decision became a headline in the newspaper?
- accountability test: Would I feel comfortable describing my actions or decisions to a customer, a shareholder or my family?
- Dignity and liberty test: Is the dignity and liberty of other people preserved by my decision? Are their opportunities expanded or curtailed?
- Equal treatment test: Are the rights, welfare and betterment of those without power being given due consideration? Is the decision being made on authentic criteria?
- Golden rule test: Do I hope that others will treat me in the way I am about to treat those affected by my decision?
- Personal gain test: Is the prospect of personal gain clouding my judgement?
- Procedural justice test: Would those adversely affected by this decision accept the fairness of the process by which it was made?
The above test relies on simple yes and no answers and will cover most situations you will ever face. The question remains where do they lay on your personal values scale. You may be very strong and unmoving on one criteria while remaining flexible on another. That’s the problem with ethics isn’t it? it’s sometimes difficult to live up to your own standards in every regard. So next time you are faced with an ethically challenging dilemma, put it to the ethics test. After all, you’re the one who has to live with your actions.