Tag Archives: ethical dilemma

The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [UPDATED AGAIN! ]

 Once again, Ethics Alarms re-posts its ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,”one of the great ethics movies of all time. It was written in 2011, and revised regularly since, including for this year’s version. I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.

It is fashionable now, and was even when the film was released, to mock its sentiment and optimism. On one crucial point Capra was correct, however, and it is worth watching the film regularly to recall it. Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. Nevertheless, the framing of the tale advances the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. He’s going to get it, too, or at least the heavenly authorities will make the effort. They are assigning an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to the job. He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there—then again, George says he’s “not a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow. Continue reading

16 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Childhood and children, Popular Culture, Professions, Romance and Relationships

Have A Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, And Don’t Forget To Review The Ethics Alarms Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide Before The Annual TV Screening!

It’s right here!

13 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Family, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Love, Popular Culture, Romance and Relationships

Reminder: It’s A Wonderful Ethics Movie!

It's_a_Wonderful_Life

I’m watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra’s ultimate ethics movie. Don’t forget to review its ethics dilemmas, conflicts and conundrums with the handy

Ethics Alarms Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide.

13 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Family, Love, Popular Culture, Public Service, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

To Get Your Christmas Ethics Off To The Right Start…

its-a-wonderful-life-collage-73136

…the Complete Ethics Alarms “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide is here.

Just in case you forgot!

Leave a comment

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

Supreme Court Justice Powell’s Ethical Dilemmas

Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell

Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell

The New York Times, anticipating next year’s Supreme Court consideration of the gay marriage problem, tells a fascinating story about the late Justice Lewis Powell, who was the swing vote in the 1986 case of  Bowers v. Hardwick, which was overturned in 2003, upholding a Georgia law outlawing sodomy.

During the consideration of the case, Powell told his colleagues that he had never met a homosexual, though in reality he had more than one gay law clerk during his tenure, and according to at least one of the former clerks, knew it.  (Powell even quizzed one of them about the mechanics of gay sex.) The reason he told his fellow Justices an untruth, the theory goes, is that he knew there was a stigma in the legal profession and in Washington connected to being gay, and he wanted to protect his law clerks.

Yet Powell, after flip-flopping on Bowers, finally came down on the side of a state’s right to make homosexual sex a crime. Continue reading

39 Comments

Filed under Character, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [UPDATED]

 Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life” is one of the great ethics movies of all time, perhaps the ethics movie of all time. In 2011 I prepared a guide through its complex ethics thicket. The post was divided into three separate posts, and I eventually combined them s0 readers can have the pleasure, if one can call it that, of watching the film like I do: having ethics arguments the whole way through. And now, here is your guide. Additions are welcome and encouraged.

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. Nevertheless, the framing of the tale advances the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. He’s going to get it, too, or at least the heavenly authorities will make the effort. They are assigning an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to the job. He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there—then again, George says he’s “not a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck Continue reading

51 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy

The NFL’s Replacement Ref Dilemma

There are some things even football fans won’t stand for. I think.

It was Week #3 of the NFL season, and there is a growing consensus that the replacement referees, the consequence of the NFL’s labor dispute with its regular refs, are making, if not a mockery of the game, a mess of it. The ethics issue: at what point is the quality of the NFL’s product so compromised by sub-professional officiating that the league is cheating the public by presenting it at all?

Airlines don’t use replacement pilots when pilots go on strike; they wouldn’t dare. Chicago didn’t hire street mimes to stand in for the striking teachers. In the NFL’s case, it is making the calculation that football fans will put up with lousy officiating if the alternative is no games at all on Sunday. Meanwhile, the NFL still charges the same outrageous prices for its tickets and still collects full value in merchandising and TV revenue. Translation: It is getting full price for a less than complete product. Is that ethical? Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Sports, Workplace