The Julie Principle

The combination of Memorial Day reflections on my late father’s character and a letter to relentlessly ethical advice columnist Carolyn Hax leads me to expound on what we will henceforth call the “Julie Principle.”

Hax’s non-religious correspondent wanted to know what she should do about a good but annoyingly Evangelical friend, who would not cease inviting her to attend church, despite knowing that such an activity held no appeal whatsoever. Hax’s answer, which you can read here, touched on many approaches to the problem. To my dad, the answer was simple. Continue reading

The Basics

I know it is asking a lot, but it would save a lot of frustration and aggravation on all sides if newcomers to Ethics Alarms would take the time to read, not only the Ethics Alarms Comments Policies, but also the Concepts and Special Terms (under the masthead above),  the Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions, the Virtues, Values and Duties, the Alarm Blockers, and the Ethics Decision-making Tools, all of which have permanent links to the immediate left of the most recent post. Not only do the essays and commentary constantly refer to these terms and topics, they are also based on them. I don’t expect to stop all new commenters from relying on “everybody does it” logic or from stooping to “who are you to judge?” as their sole argument, but if more would just read these sections, I wouldn’t have to keep writing the same thing in response quite so much. That would make me happy, and also get more new relationships here off to a friendlier start. These are the concepts, tools and language that underlie everything that’s written here, and the more we all are speaking the same language, the better the discussion will be.

I have also recently added material to both Concepts and Special Terms and the Rationalizations section, as both were out of date. I encourage regular visitors to re-acquaint themselves with those areas, and feel free to suggest changes, additions and deletions, as well as flagging the inevitable and apparently unavoidable, for me at least, typos.

The Maine Incivility Project

Thank goodness for the Maine Incivility Project.

With all the talk about incivility sparked by the media’s determination to blame a madman’s shooting rampage on Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party, it rapidly became evident that civility is a somewhat elusive concept. For example, while shouting “You lie!” at the President while he is speaking is definitely uncivil, arguing that the President was really foreign born isn’t—it’s stupid, but not uncivil. Calling Rush Limbaugh “a Big, Fat, Idiot” in the title of your book, as Sen. Al Franken did, is uncivil, as is calling Nancy Pelosi “the Wicked Witch of the West,” as Rush Limbaugh did. Using cross-hairs to designate Democratic House seats that Republicans are “gunning for'”, “targeting” or “taking aim at”, on the other hand, is not uncivil…just unsettling if one is metaphor-challenged or hoplophobic (having a pathological fear of guns.)

Never fear, however. Before the echoes  of President Obama’s call for Americans to come together had barely faded, the public got a handy lesson from the Governor of Maine about what incivility sounds like, as his term launches the new Maine Incivility Project. Continue reading

Random Encounters with the Human Race: Caring and Helpless

One of the few pleasures left in business travel these days is the chance to meet interesting people who are very different from those I typically encounter at home. One my last trip, waiting for a connection, I was buying a cup of specialty coffee an airport stand from a friendly man with a lovely African accent. “How much?” I asked.

“All of it,” he said, smiling, as he glanced at the travel funds in my wallet.

“Can’t do that, ” I joshed. “It all belongs to my wife.”

And suddenly this stranger who I was never going to see again was pouring out his life story, choking up with emotion in the process. Continue reading

Super Sunday Ethics: Tim Tebow’s Pro-Life Superbowl Ad

N.F.L. quarterback Tim Tebow is in the middle of a fierce culture wars controvesy because he agreed to let his life story be the centerpiece of a Super Bowl ad created by Focus on the Family, the evangelical group founded by James Dobson. has bought air time during the Super Bowl. The ad features Tebow and his mother relating how she rejected the advice of doctors when urged her to have an abortion. She had the baby, and he grew up to be a football star. A touchdown for the anti-abortion team.

Some women’s groups, including the National Organization for Women, are petitioning  CBS not to air the ad during next month’s Super Bowl, always one of the most-watched television events of the year. Continue reading

The 2009 Ethics Alarms Awards, Part 2: The Best

The Best in Ethics of 2009. May the 2010 list be longer!

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year: President Barack Obama’s executive order banning torture. The Declaration of Independence already did it once, but the President was right: we needed some reminding.

Ethical Leadership: Howard County, MD, which launched a “Choose Civility” campaign based on the book Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, by Johns Hopkins University Professor Dr. P.M. Forni. The effort attracted national attention, and has sparked similar movements around the country. Continue reading

The Arnie Becker Rule [Updated 12/11/16]

For about 20 years, the consensus has been building in the legal profession that a lawyer sleeping with his clients is not only a bad idea, but also should be prohibited by the formal ethics rules. States like California, Oregon and New York quickly adopted such a rule while other bars resisted; when the ABA added the “no sex with clients” provision to is Model Rule 1.8 in 2003, more states followed suit. Now Virginia, one of the most respected bars in the country, is considering its first  pronouncement on the subject, in the form of a formal ethics opinion. Continue reading