How do you decide what is the right thing to do? Nickels, McHugh, and McHugh (2010) offer three questions to aid in ethical decision making. Is it legal? Is it balanced? How will it make me feel about myself? Let’s explore each of these questions.
Is it legal? This should be a no-brainer. Of course, no one wants to break the law. In general, avoiding things that can cause one to go to jail or pay heavy fines is good. But do you always know whether or not the action in which you are about to engage is legal? Do you always do due diligence to find out what the law says regarding a particular action? When you realize that you’ve been driving the wrong direction, do you pop a u-turn and hope for the best or do you check for the appropriate signage—every time? At work, do multiple users share software for which your organization only has one license? At times knowing, much less following, the law can be more complicated than it seems on the surface, but researching the legal ramifications of your actions before engaging in them can save a great deal of time and trouble after the fact.
Next, is it balanced (or fair)? How would you feel if someone did what you are about to do to you? The Golden Rule still stands true: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Someone relayed a story to me about her manager at a women’s clothing store. The manager told the staff to target older women customers and try to sell them expensive clothes they didn’t need because they were too old to know better and it would be an easy way to make more money. What a horrible thing to say! How would you feel if someone treated your grandmother that way? Along with the Golden Rule comes the law of reciprocity: you reap what you sow. It is better to treat people fairly and have fair treatment come back to you. When unjust actions go around, they come back around again. And payback is usually worse than the initial payment.
Finally, how will it make you feel about yourself? What happens in secret often comes to the light. If news of the thing you are about to do went viral with internet, television, radio, and print coverage, how would you feel? How would you feel if your mother found out? If the answers to these questions include embarrassment, guilt, hurt, and shame this may be a sign that your intended action is not such a good idea.
So what are you thinking about doing? Is that right? Are you sure?