What Would You Do? This Tells A Lot About Your Ethics.

What are ethics? My ethics are the rules or standards governing the conduct by which I live my life and make all my decisions. One of the best ways of thinking about ethics is to take a quick look at what you believe and then think about how you would react when those beliefs are challenged.

Your ethics govern your thought process so that when a problem arises or you need to try and work your way through a situation your solution is based on your ethics. 

We live in a world where no one wants to get involved in another person’s affairs and headaches. We say “It’s none of my business!” or “I don’t want to be pulled into the drama!”

Natural morality comes from having pro-social tendencies, which are based on the ability to have empathy and to understand what it means to be fair with the resources in the community. 

Acting in ways consistent with what society and individuals typically think are good values. Ethical behavior tends to be good for business and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights.

Most animals that live in herds or packs understand the value of maintaining a cohesive unit for survival. 

There are two ways of doing ethical inquiry, namely, normative ethics and metaethics.

On the one hand, normative ethics is prescriptive in nature as it seeks to set norms or standards that regulate right and wrong or good and bad conduct.  This may involve articulating the good habits that we should acquire, the duties that we should follow, or the consequences of our behavior.

Metaethics, on the other hand, is descriptive in nature. According to Sumner (1967), “metaethics is allegedly constituted, at least in part, by questions of the meanings of the various ethical terms and functions of ethical utterances.” Hence, if a normative ethical inquiry is evaluative and prescriptive, metaethics is analytical and descriptive. Put simply, metaethics is a type of ethical inquiry that aims to understand the nature and dynamics of ethical principles. It asks questions about the nature and origin of moral facts, as well as the way in which we learn and acquire moral beliefs.

Thus, for example, if normative ethics urges us to do good at all times, metaethics asks the question “What is good?”. For sure, if a moral philosopher attempts to address the questions “What is good?”, “What is justice?”, “Why should I be moral?”, then that moral philosopher is doing metaethics. Hence, when Plato proposed an answer to the question “Why should I be moral”, Plato was doing metaethics―indeed, Plato raised a metaethical question.

Scenarios To Consider

  1. Your friends came over to your house for a movie night.  One of your friends brought another friend so there are more people than you planned for.  You want to pass out the drinks but you only have five cans of soda and you need six for everyone to have their own.  What would you do?
  2. There is a guy in your class who is always mean to you.  He always bumps you when he walks by and he calls you names.  He knocks stuff out of your hands and makes you feel stupid.   You don’t think you can take it anymore.  What do you do?
  3. If you saw your best friend’s boyfriend kissing another girl, would you tell her?
  4. If you found a wallet with $1500. cash in it, would you try to return it?
  5. If you saw some young kids bullying another kid, would you step in?  If they were older kids would it change your answer?
  6. If the guy at the corner store gives you $10 more change than you were owed, do you tell him?
  7. If someone in this group posts something online (facebook, twitter, etc.) that really offends you, would you say anything in the group publicly?  Would you send them a personal message?  Would you do nothing since it was a group?

While peoples actions are a great way to judge, they won't tell the whole story.

Determining an ethical individual is difficult because you have to also be aware of their intentions and their principles.

In the United States, our ethics are generally derived from the constitution, bill of rights, etc.

So let's discuss the correlation between actions and intentions.

If actions were the only metric to determine if one was ethical, there would be no need for a court, a judge or a jury.

You killed a guy, alright you're going to jail for life, whose next? But we don't do this, we hold court even with clear evidence.

Why? So that we can grasp the intention to determine a proper sentence.

That is to say that we judge premeditated murder differently than impulsive murder, even though they are essentially the same act.

To the only judge based on the action is to make black and white, out of what the whole judicial branch deals with as Grey areas.

The second important thing to consider is that a person can be ethical today and unethical tomorrow and vice versa.

Hence why we have parole boards in prisons and impeachment processes for presidents.

The board is there to decide whether the felon can return to society as an ethically bounded person.

The impeachment process is in place if ever the highest office based on ethical dealings starts being misused.

People are dynamic and ever-changing so whether they are ethical isn't set in stone.

The easiest way to determine an ethical person is by discovering what they won't do and why.

Like Batman who won't kill no matter how effective it would be to take out the joker for good, because he feels that murder is crossing the ethical line.

Or Robin Hood who is a thief, but won't steal from the poor because he feels it's wrong.

Given the opportunity to do wrong without punishment, an ethical person will still refrain, because they prioritize their principles over their profit.

To truly identify an ethical individual you will have to understand what they believe is wrong and then test their willingness to act in conflict with their expressed beliefs.

Here is how to answer the question about your living “What do you do?”

  • Tell a story to paint a picture of what you do
  • Talk about what you do to help people
  • Make it relatable
  • Skip the mind-numbing details
  • Focus on the aspects you’re passionate about

Ethics are important for a number of reasons. First, ethics are important because they give us a baseline for understanding the concepts of right and wrong. Ethics help us to have a ready understanding of how to react to a certain situation long before that situation happens.

We all like to think of ourselves as ethical. Whether it’s at work or when dealing with complete strangers, our ethics are essentially what set us apart from other species. But while you might consider yourself an ethical person – you don’t steal, you always remember to hold the door open for the person behind you – you might not have the squeaky-clean ethical reputation that you like to think you have.

Here are some ethical questions: 

Are you willing to take another person job by working for a wage less than what he or she needs to survive? If you are then you are unethical. 

Are you willing to pay less for pharmaceuticals if it means people in another country must make up the difference in cost, sending many of those people into bankruptcy or an early grave because they can't afford medicine? If so, then you are unethical. 

Are you willing to sell your crop exports at a lower price if it means farmers in another country will lose their land and go bankrupt, some of whom will commit suicide? 

I have a few guiding principles I use as I strive to be the most ethical person that I can. Here they are:

  1. Do no harm. I’m always conscious of not wanting to hurt another person whether it is by my words or actions.
  2. Contribute to the betterment of others. Through my teaching, I strive to enhance the ethical awareness of my students so they can lead a more ethical life and act ethically in the workplace.
  3. Consider how I want to be remembered at the end of my life. Obviously, it’s not to be known as a cheat or thief, or someone who uses others to get my way. For me, it’s that I did what I could to make the world a better place by living up to the ethical values that guide my life’s decisions.
  4. Act the way I would want others to act towards me. When faced with an ethical conflict or dilemma I always consider how I would want others to handle the dilemma if I were in the same position as that of the person(s) affected by my impending decision/action. This an extension of The Golden Rule to treat others the way we want to be treated.
  5. Admit my mistakes and move on. I’m not perfect. I make my share of mistakes. We all do. But, when I do, I immediately admit it, promise not to do it again and take whatever steps are necessary to change my behavior. I, and only I am responsible for my decisions and actions and am accountable to others when I miss the mark.

I like to think of ethics as being all about what we do when no one is looking. Our actions reveal the character or person that we are ultimately 

Consequences of unethical behaviors:

  • Criminal charges and/or fines
  • Lawsuits
  • Ruined careers
  • Injured organization reputation
  • Wasted time
  • Low morale
  • Recruiting difficulties
  • Oppressive legislation
  • Fraud and scandals


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