Tag Archives: kindness

Ethics Hero: Scott Steffel

Only 8 players in Major League Baseball history had hit 600 home runs, and last weekend the number became 9 as Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols reached the impressive milestone with a grand slam in the fourth inning of the June 3 game in Anaheim. Cal State Fullerton student Scott Steffel, a 23-year-old lifelong Angels fan, caught the ball in his glove. Such a souvenir is a collector’s dream, and catching it a baseball fan’s once-in-a-lifetime dream-come-true.

Yet Scott Steffel gave the ball back to Albert Pujols, the man who hit it. He didn’t ask for money or a truck-load of autographed bats and gloves.   He didn’t think about how much money Pujols had )millions and millions) and that the ball was figuratively made of gold. He just gave it back, saying that he didn’t feel it belonged to him, but Pujols:

“It’s not my ball, it’s his. He deserves it. He’s one of the best baseball players right now. Of all time.”

Bravo.

16 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Heroes, Sports

Ethics, Motives, Killing With Kindness, “Amadeus” And Related Matters

On a thread about the hysterical doom-sayers in response to the US’s exit from the Paris accords on climate change, one dedicated defender of progressive orthodoxy, lacking a genuine rebuttal for the proposition that the social media and pundit panic was nonsense (for there is none), defaulted to the argument that the withdrawal was unethical because the President’s stated motives for it were untrue. This raised two issues, one centuries old, and the other, an irritating one, of more recent vintage.

In order to sanctify many of the Obama administration’s policy botches, many people have adapted  aggressive versions of three prime rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms List: #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”; #13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”) and #14. Self-validating Virtue. To refresh your memory:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people sometimes do bad things because they are good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem they begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

This has led to the seeming absurdity of recent arguments, some accepted in court, that the same conduct can be right or wrong, depending on whether the conduct is based on “good” motives, and who is the actor. Since, to take one random example, Barack Obama is obviously good and means well, even inept, poorly planned and irresponsible policies are ethical. Because President Trump is a villain, the same conduct emanating from his dastardly motives would make the same conduct unethical. I have dealt with this biased approach before and will again, but not today.

It is the second, older question that concerns me at the moment, and that is whether human motives should be used in the analysis of whether conduct is ethical or not. The conundrum come up repeatedly in one of my favorite ethics books,  “The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten.Continue reading

30 Comments

Filed under U.S. Society

Reviving The Ethics Canary At The 7-11

Uncharacteristically, I began the day with a visit to my local 7-11, as we realized that the Marshalls were out of coffee and half-and-half. The perilous non-caffeinated drive was aided by the new  Sirius-XM Beatles Channel, which now follows the excellent policy of loading up the waking-up hours with early Fab Four classics, so I was safely stimulated  by joyous songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Eight Days a Week.”

The 7-11 was mobbed, as it usually is in the morning, and the line was very long. I noticed that the customers were filing past the register and the single clerk on duty almost wordlessly. Many were wearing earphones, and those who were not looked down at the counter and silently handed over their money. The clerk, a young Hispanic-American man whom I had never seen there before, was similarly unengaged, not speaking to anyone,  looking down and sullen.

This is not healthy for a community. The lack of what once was considered the normal, friendly, social interaction at a central gathering place is yet another ethics canary dying in society’s mine.

When the line got to me, I tried something bold: I looked at the young man and said, “How are you today?”  He actually shook his head quickly like a cartoon character  who sees something stunning. “Me? Good! How are you?” he said in halting English. Now he was smiling and making a connection with another human being. “I’m good,” I said.”It’s a beautiful day. When  do you get off?”

“Eleven o’clock…long day,” he said, rolling his eyes. (Holy crap!) “Have a good day, man. Thanks.”

I have to believe that simple, polite, daily contact and conversation among people can perform wonders returning mutual respect and civility to our nation, and even our civic discourse. This was a prominent habit of my father, who often treated strangers like old friends, much to the embarrassment of my mother, who tended to regard anyone who wasn’t Greek as a space alien.

Too often, I realize, when I am tired, preoccupied, stressed and in a hurry, I fail to extend to those I encounter in the random chaos of life the basic courtesy of looking them in the eye, showing that I think they matter and are every bit as important as I am (for they are), and making what may be the only time the two of us share a moment in our lives a pleasant interlude. That young man’s smile this morning should remind me, at such times, that this simple and painless gesture, repeated enough times by enough of us, can heal many of society’s self-inflicted wounds.

38 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Daily Life, U.S. Society

Ethics Hero: Lindsey Bittorf

I regard people who contribute kidneys to near strangers as residing in a special category of Ethics Hero, in the exemplary ethics category….maybe the exemplary exemplary ethics category.  Considering Don Bedwell, the first individual I learned about who  engaged in this extraordinary act of sacrifice, kindness, and compassion,  I began my 2005 post, “There are special and rare people whose ethical instincts are so pure and keen that they can make the rest of us feel inadequate.”  Bedwell, a traveling businessman, donated his kidney to a waitress who often served him at his favorite Cleveland restaurant when he was passing through the city on business. The second altruistic organ donor was East Haven, Connecticut  Mayor April Capone Almon, who gifted one of her kidneys  to a desperate constituent she barely knew.

Wisconsin police officer Lindsey Bittorf is the most recent example of this special breed of ethics hero.  She saw a Facebook post from a local mother pleading for someone to rescue might  her  8-year-old son, Jackson Arneson, who needed a kidney. The boy’s family and friends had been tested and none were a match. Bittorf didn’t know the child or the family, but got herself tested on a whim. Doctors told her she was an unusually good match,considering that she was not related to the boy.

Last week, Bittorf  rang the doorbell at Jackson’s home to surprise his family with the good news,  ABC News reported. Jackson could have one of her healthy kidneys.The police officer told Jackson’s mom, Kristi Goll, that it was an “early Mother’s Day gift.”  That’s a bit better than flowers, you’ll have to admit. Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Hero: Pop Star Nicki Minaj

I wouldn’t cross the street to watch over-the-top, beautiful but annoyingly nasal pop singer Nicki Minaj perform, but I’d walk miles to shake her hand.

Over the weekend, the mega-star answered Twitter questions about a lip syncing contest using her “Regret in Your Tears” music video. One audacious follower asked if the singer would pay for her college tuition. It never hurts to ask, right?  Minaj not only agreed but offered to pay the tuition for other fans, tweeting,

Show me straight A’s that I can verify w/ur school and I’ll pay it. Who wants to join THAT contest?!?!🤷🏽‍♀️ Dead serious. Shld I set it up?

And she did set it up. Requests came in from all quarters, containing transcripts and student loan balances.

“U want to go to college but can’t? How much do u need to get u in school? Is that the only thing stopping u?” Minaj asked an immigrant fan who said she could not afford classes. Minaj  sent the money. She also assisted a single mother who needed $500 for her remaining tuition, and sent $6,000 to cover the fall semester for another Twitter follower, including his room and board, courses and meal plan.

Yes, I am keeping my fingers crossed that Minaj’s spontaneous outburst of kindness and charity isn’t exploited by scammers. She’s certainly laying herself wide open to be misled. Yet one cannot be generous and compassionate and not be vulnerable to the worst in society. I’m sure Nicki knows that. To her credit, she is willing to court the risk to change some lives for the better.

She’s a deserving Ethics Hero, and boy, I needed one today.

_____________________

Pointer: Alexander Cheezem

2 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Social Media

Ethics Hero, Corporate Division: Merck

Sometimes, though their implacable foes would refuse to acknowledge it, big corporations do the right thing even without a metaphorical gun at their heads. This week’s Economist magazine relates an amazing example that the public needs to know about, especially since it challenges popular stereotypes about Big Pharma.

The Economist begins by horrifying us with a deadly aspect of life in third world countries that are hot and wet: “neglected tropical diseases,” or NTDs. These are neglected because the populations that suffer from them are poor and far away, but they affect more than a billion people. Among the scourges, all parasitic, are Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, guinea-worm disease, leishmaniasis, river blindness, trachoma and yaws. There are 18 pernicious maladies currently listed as NTSs.

In the 1970s, mega-pharmaceutical firm Merck developed the drug ivermectin after tests on animals with parasitic infections. William Campbell, one of the firm’s parasitologists,told company executives that the new drug might be effective against the parasite that caused onchocerciasis, or river blindness, which  afflicts populations in in parts of Africa, Latin America, and  Yemen.  He was given the green light to find out.

The first human trial of ivermectin as treatment for river blindness took place in Senegal in 1981, on patients who had the early stages of the disease—itching, rashes— but no damage to their eyes yet. The results were encouraging,  indicating that ivermectin was safe for humans and highly effective at stopping the disease before it blinded its victims.  Merck, however, now faced the problem that has impeded cures for all the neglected tropical diseases: those who needed ivermectin were too poor to buy it, and so were the nations where they lived. Big corporations are not charities; they have investors, stockholders and a bottom line. They are not accustomed or programmed to give away their products.

Yet Merck made a corporate decision that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren say is impossible. Starting in 1987, it made an open-ended commitment to distribute as much ivermectin as was needed to eradicate the river blindness worldwide. In the next ten years, it swallowed the cost of 100 million doses. Continue reading

17 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, Workplace

Ethics Quiz: Lying To The Dying, Or Trump Derangement Meets “The Magnificent Seven”

In “The Magnificent Seven,” the original classic, not last year’s disappointing re-make, Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) had always been convinced that the real reason the Seven had agreed to help a poor Mexican village fight a predatory bandit band was because the town had a secret treasure to share. (It didn’t.) Harry refuses to join the rest as they make one desperate effort to help the farmers, then at the peak of the gunfire gallops back into the village to join the battle–and is promptly shot. Dying, he begs Chris (Yul Brenner) to confirm his suspicions…

Harry Luck: Chris… I hate to die a sucker. We didn’t come here just to keep an eye on a lot of corn and chili peppers, did we? There was something else all along, wasn’t there?

Chris: Yes, Harry. You had it pegged right all along.

Harry: I knew it. What was it?

Chris: Gold. Sacks of it.

Harry: Sounds… beautiful. How much?

Chris: At least a hundred and fifty.

Harry: My cut would have been what?

Chris: About seventy thousand.

Harry: I’ll be damned. (He dies)

Chris: Maybe you won’t be.

Today’s news has another story involving lying to a dying man, a really stupid story.

Michael Garland Elliott, 75,  died of congestive heart failure in his Oregon home ,surrounded by his caregivers, neighbors and friends.  Right before the end, his ex-wife,spoke with him over the phone from her home in Austin, Texas.

She told him that President Trump had been impeached.   “I knew it was his very, very last moments,” Teresa Elliott told reporters. “I knew that would bring him comfort and it did. He then took his final breath.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is it ethical to lie to dying friends and loved ones?

Continue reading

31 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Family, Government & Politics, Popular Culture, Quizzes