Ten Useful Ethics Alarms

It occurred to me, after more than a year, that I’ve never actually posted the basic ethics alarms we all should have installed and in working order, ready to sound when we are in, or about to be placed in, situations that are rife with ethics peril. Here are ten basic ones; there are lots of other useful ethics alarms to have, but these will serve you well. When one starts buzzing, it’s time to step back, thinks, and perhaps most useful of all, talk to someone whose ethical standards and reasoning you trust:

Competence Alarm!

You are asked to do something that is outside your expertise.

Confidentiality Alarm!

You have a confidence you are obligated to keep and a simultaneous duty to divulge it.

Ego Alarm!

Your self-esteem is tied up in being perceived as successful or correct.

Personal Conflicts Alarm!

Your personal needs, non-ethical considerations or feelings are intertwined with your professional duties.

Loyalty Alarm!

You have conflicting loyalties.

Courage Alarm!

Averting a disaster or preventing harm to others may require professional or personal risk.

Emotion Alarm!

You are angry, depressed, bitter, impaired, burned out or sick.

Ignorance Alarm!

You don’t know the likely consequences of your actions

Group-think Alarm!

You are under pressure to change your basic values to comply with those of a leader, a peer group, or an organization.

Desperation Alarm!

You think that you are willing to do anything to avoid a particular event or result.

2 thoughts on “Ten Useful Ethics Alarms

  1. I brought a small piece of fudge to work, and since I was there early, I was waiting by the clock, and I thought, “Man, I didn’t have breakfast. I would really like this.” But I persevered and split it with a coworker, who just happened to be having a bad week and loved the fudge.

    It’s a tiny example, but it’s the most recent one where I actually stopped myself from thinking selfishly. I could have easily made the fudge vanish and nobody would have known. But I realized it was sorta selfish.

  2. It was your fudge, so ethically you had no obligation to share it. But, better than acting merely ethically, you had empathy and did something beyond what ethics would call for in the circumstances — congratulations! And, you know what, you probably felt pretty good about yourself for making somebody else happy. Nothing wrong with that either.

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