Category Archives: Daily Life

Ethics Quiz: From The Ethics Alarms Mailbag…

burningmoneyimageReader and sometime commenter Elizabeth 2 e-mails…

Here’s a question for which I’d appreciate some input.

I am generally a sucker for street people who ask for money. I frequent the 7-11 for quick trips for needed household items, and over the past couple of months I’ve often seen a young woman outside, just sitting there.  She once asked me if I had any spare change:  I gave her $10.  A couple of weeks later, same question, same response.

Then a month or so after I had last given her money, I was in the same 7-11 and saw her buying lottery tickets.

Last week she saw me as I entered the 7-11, recognized me, and asked me again for “spare change.” I said “I don’t have any cash at all.  Sorry!”  I was not of a mind to help this young woman use my charity for the biggest scam of all time:  the Virginia Lottery.

My question is this:  if I am willing to part with money for a person who seems to need it, and to do so without the vetting that a charity usually gets from me, am I in any position at all to care or change my behavior because of the way the money is spent?  Admittedly I have no ability to realistically judge the true need of anyone who asks me for money, but if I have some evidence that makes me wary, should I act on it?

Or, since charity (monetary or otherwise) is an important pillar of character for me, should I simply give what I can when I can and make no judgement whatsoever?  After all, these people don’t have Form 990s for me to examine.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it ethical to withhold charity from a needy individual because you regard her likely use of your gift as irresponsible?

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Filed under Daily Life, Quotes

From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

mao

I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Professions, The Internet

Comment of the Day:”Unethical Website Of The Month: #GrabYour Wallet”

boycotts

Should I regret when readers explain my positions better than I do? I don’t. It is one of the great advantages of the Ethics Alarms symposium format: very smart people often refine my views and make them clearer for me, as well as others.

An example is Glenn Logan’s Comment of the Day, on a topic that has come up her before, boycotts. Every time it has, someone has countered my ethical conviction that boycotts are intrinsically wrong with the argument that we all have a right and often good reasons to refuse to patronize a business, so why is it unethical to urge others to follow our lead? Glenn does a better job answering that question than I ever have.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post “Unethical Website Of The Month: #GrabYour Wallet.”

This is how I see boycotts, and I’ll explain by responding to parts of [reader Spartan’s] comment:

Assuming people have X amount of dollars they are going to spend, those X dollars will just go to other companies. Every time I buy a GM car (I only buy GM cars), am I hurting someone from Ford, Nissan, BMW, etc.?

Are you buying the car for its value, or in order to hurt other companies? Presumably, most people buy cars for their perceived value, or their styling, or some other characteristic that pushes the correct buttons of their personal taste in cars.

But if the only button GM presses is related to politics/religion/etc. then yes, it would be unethical.

I have a Mormon colleague who will only stay at Marriott hotels because it is a Mormon-owned chain. Is he boycotting other hotels?

Let me answer this question with another question: Is it ethical for a white person to patronize white-only restaurants because of the race of their ownership? Is it ethical for a gay person to patronize only gay-owned establishments? How about Catholics using a religious test for their patronage? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, U.S. Society

Encore: “The Guy In The Lobster Hat”

(This isn't the guy. I think it's his son...)

(This isn’t the guy. I think it’s his son…)

Longtime reader and commenter Neil Dorr chided me today for writing so much about the post-election media, political, and legal  ethics breaches going on, and not as much on the types of topics I tended to cover on the old Ethics Scoreboard, now an archive of an earlier time  when I thought a few posts a week could cover the topic of societal ethics. I was more innocent then, and I also had to depend on a webmaster: I posted more essays in the first year of Ethics Alarms than the entire output of the Ethics Scoreboard. Neil said he missed posts like the one about “the Lobster Hat”. I have to say, I don’t think there have been many posts likethe  one about the lobster hat, which was one of my occasional “a day in Jack’s strange life” posts. I had forgotten about it completely. I tracked the decade old post down, however, and for Neil, and anyone else who is interested in lobster hats, here it is..

Today I accompanied my wife to a doctor’s appointment that she was dreading, and while we were checking in with the receptionist, a large, rotund fellow with a long white beard walked in to do likewise. On his head was what appeared to be a large, red lobster…a hat of sorts, though not a very seasonable or practical one. It was spectacular, however, with two large claws that drooped down about eyebrow level, and an impressive tail in the back. If I were ordering this specimen at Jimmy’s Harborside in Boston, it would be about a four-pounder.

I was amused at this unexpected sight, and said to my wife, loud enough so Lobster-topped Santa could hear me, “See? You think you have medical problems. This poor guy has a lobster attached to his head!” To my surprise, the man turned sharply and looked at me with a furious glare, snorted, and walked out the door, clearly offended, exactly as if I had said, “Wow! That’s some harelip you have there!” or “Gee, where does a guy as fat as you buy suits?” Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Etiquette and manners, Humor and Satire

My Breakfast Confrontation At McDonald’s

mcd-checkout

I’ve been mulling this experience for a while, and since it still ticks me off, and since today seems like an especially provocative time to raise it, here it comes.

I was accompanying my wife as she went to a clinic for some early morning outpatient surgery, and as she waited in the one-chair-short reception room, I went next door to a McDonald’s to order breakfast. As usual, my wallet had moths flying out of it, so I knew it was going to be a debit card purchase. My apparently mute clerk took my order —remember when Ray Kroc insisted that every employee say “Hello!” and “Thank-you”? Now you are lucky to get eye contact and a grunt—the modest amount appeared,  and I swiped my card. The machine told me that the card was rejected. I swiped again. Rejected again.

“OK, now what am I supposed to do?” I asked. : This is a good card, and there is plenty on money in the bank.”

My clerk  said only, “Pay!”

“I can’t pay, because of your stupid machines. I want to buy my breakfast. This is my only means of payment. The card readers is  malfunctioning!”

She said again, louder and with irritation, “PAY! PAY!”

“Don’t tell me pay pay, because I just told you, I tried to pay pay, and  your equipment won’t let me pay pay! Find a way for me to pay!” I replied, with the delightful intensity for which I am well-known.

Now she started angrily shaking the receipt at me, shouting PAY three times and nothing else, apparently having reached the zenith of her language skills.

“LOOK!” I said. “This is your store. All I want to do is pay a lousy 7 bucks for a sausage biscuit and a coffee, and this machine is stopping me. I can’t pay if your lousy equipment isn’t maintained. FIND A WAY FOR ME TO PAY! That’s your job!”

You’ll never guess her response.

No, go ahead, guess. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, language, U.S. Society, Workplace

When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring (Or Were Disconnected): Now THIS Is An Unethical Airplane Passenger….

A Trump-deranged woman on a Baltimore to Seattle flight went bananas when she learned that a fellow passenger was not similarly inclined, and was so abusive that she was kicked off the flight.

Good.

The object of her scorn, Scott Koteskey, described the confrontation on Facebook, writing in part…

I’m boarding my flight from Baltimore to Seattle and approach my seat…As I approach my row I smile and motion to the husband and wife sitting in the aisle and middle seat that my seat was next to the window. I put my backpack in the overhead and the wife with a very stern voice says to me:

“Did you come here to cheer or to protest?”

“I came here to celebrate democracy ma’am”

She then proceeded with: (somewhat paraphrased as my memory allows):

Her: “You put a crazed man in charge of the nuclear codes! You should be ashamed!”

Me: ‘Well we’re all entitled to our opinions here ma’am.”

Her: “And I’m entitled to get drunk and puke in your lap! I’m going to throw up right in your lap! You make me sick! Don’t talk to me! Don’t look at me! Don’t you dare even put your arm on that rest. You disgust me! You should be ashamed of yourself! You put a maniac’s finger on the button” (assuming she’s means nukes). You are a bigot. You should get off this plane!”

Me: “Ma’am, by definition, bigotry is disparaging someone prior to knowing them simply by their beliefs and opinions. Thank you for being the very thing you preach against.”

She then proceeded with other various rantings such as my lack of critical thinking and other insults. Finally a flight attendant came over as you will see in the video followed by a supervisor informing that she would have to de-board the plane per captain’s orders….

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “CVS Line Ethics”

golden-2

Texaggo4’s Comment of the Day  enriched the surprisingly lively discussion about  the ethical conundrum of how many single-item purchasers a CVS customer in line should let go before him to checkout if he had, as I did last week, a full cart.

 His discussion of applying The Golden Rule to the situation took off from my comment referring to his earlier assertion that it wasn’t strictly a question settled by Reciprocity. The numbered statements on Tex’s post are from me. Here is Tex’s COTD on the post, “CVS Line Ethics”—I added another brief comment he offered in the same thread at the end, as it is germane:

1.“I don’t recall Jesus, Zoroaster, Buddha and the rest ever noting the CVS exception.”

I don’t recall ever noting an exception either…since this isn’t necessarily Golden Rule territory. In this scenario, application of the Golden Rule would arise as the exception.

“2. The GR has nothing to do with an obligation. It is never an obligation. It is based on altruism.”

It is very much about obligation– and obligation isn’t a dirty word. The real question here is where do you draw the line on whose needs outweigh the others, and if they really do or not. Golden Rule would compel you to allow someone to cut if their cutting *actually* decreases *actual* harm. The Golden Rule doesn’t compel you to allow someone to cut *just because* it increases an already-present level of contentment in their lives. It may strongly suggest such conduct in so much as it doesn’t needlessly impose on you, but it no means compels it, hence this isn’t necessarily a Golden Rule scenario.

You see, “so whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” is a painfully open ended, and as such-much criticized maxim, when taken out of context. So, the Golden Rule IS the Law. Looking at the phrase elsewhere one would glean that ALL the Law, and therefore the Golden Rule, depends on two basic commands:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Religion and Philosophy