"E" Is for Everyday Ethics
By Margaret R. McLean
When was the first time you had to choose between right and
wrong, between telling the truth or whispering a lie? What was
it that first tweaked your sense of fair play--a warm gooey
chocolate chip cookie not quite divided in half, being "too
little" to try-out for the ball team? When was the first
time you cried, "It's not fair!"? It really is hard
to imagine a time when we weren't trying to be good--or, at
least, trying to avoid being caught in that little lie. It really
is hard to imagine a time when we weren't doing ethics. Everyday,
we face ethical dilemmas, those moments when we think: Should
I? Shouldn't I? Ethics--we can either do it well or do it badly.
There seem to be as many definitions of ethics as there are
ethicists. The one that has caught my eye recently is: "Ethics
is individuals working together as a community to be at their
best." This simple statement acknowledges what we all know
to be true about life--that we are in this alone and we are
in this together. We are individuals--deciding, choosing, living,
dying. But, we are also members of communities--family, neighborhood,
church, society. As individuals, we focus on will and choice--I
decide what I am going to do. As members of communities, we
see that the results of our choices affect others--my decision
to lie is wrong because it hurts others as well as myself. Ethics
asks us to reflect on what it means to be at our best both in
our individual lives and in our relationships. What does it
take to be caring and committed people and communities?
Every day, we decide who we are--truthful or dishonest? Every
day, our actions have consequences--helpful or hurtful? Every
day, we either build up or tear down relationships. We tend
to think of ethics as coming into view only in congressional
investigations or intensive care units. But, in reality, we
practice ethics every day; we work together to be at our best--or
our worst-every day. Cloning, assisted suicide, lying to Congress--these
catch the headlines. Munching on unpaid-for grapes in the market,
cheating on an exam or taxes, telling that little white lie--these
catch our lives-every day.
Margaret R. McLean is director of health care and biotechnology
ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
to The ABC's of Medical Ethics.
Posted August 2006