Are you ethical? Take a moment to think about that.
For many of us, me included, the first response that comes to mind is “What do you mean by ethical?”. And in my opinion that’s the most appropriate and accurate answer, because ethics is not a clearly defined, universally agreed-upon standard.
There is no checklist. There is no book of truth. There is just intent.
Better understanding ethics as a concept helps us understand why “Are you ethical?” is a tricky question to answer and a pointless one to ask. Here’s how the BBC describes ethics:
"At its simplest, ethics is a system of moral principles. They affect how people make decisions and lead their lives. Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy. Ethics covers the following dilemmas:
how to live a good life
our rights and responsibilities
the language of right and wrong
moral decisions - what is good and bad"
That all makes sense, for sure. But it also shows that there's plenty of room for debate in each of those bullet points. What is a good life? What are our rights? What is the language of right? What is good?
Even if these questions are open to debate, they shouldn’t stop us from stepping out on our own ethical journeys. For any of us interested in living a good life, one in which we take responsibility for our actions, speak well and do good, those first steps involve trying to understand what we believe to be important in each of those bullet points..
As one of the pillars of philosophy, ethics has been a topic of intense debate for thousands of years, a debate that shows no signs of being settled. This is why the starting point for anyone wanting to be ethical is to engage with the conversation, research the ideas and come up with our own answers.
That’s why I see ethics as a journey with a purpose rather than a destination. An orientation, an interest and a mindset. An intent rather than an impossible standard to attain.
In fact it’s impossible standards that get in the way of attempts to be ethical - in this case the perfect really is the enemy of the good. This chastening realisation - that even when we try to be ethical we’re not always going to succeed - should encourage us. Not put us off trying.
I know that some of the ideas and behaviours I display today may seem odd or even cringeworthy in years to come. But that’s ok. And that’s why my answer to the question “Are you ethical?” is “I’m trying”. Trying to understand, trying to learn, trying to be better. And I believe that’s what we should each do right now.
Found this Little Missions interesting?
Subscribe to get Little Missions delivered straight to your inbox.