Tag Archives: non-ethical considerations

Comment Of The Day: “From The Ethics Alarms ‘It’s NOT Okay To Be White?’ Files: The Blacks-Only Opinion Section”

Prolific commenter johnburger2013 issued this epic two days ago, but I confess, I didn’t have a chance to read it until today.Knowing john and his work, I expected to be impressed, and I was.

This is one of my favorite genres of comment: the personal ethics odyssey with fearless self-evaluation. Such comments require bravery, honesty, and objectivity, and the author displays all of these here. This comment is especially helpful to me today, for I am going over a confrontation I had today during a seminar that left me annoyed and questioning my response.

Ethics audits of an episode, a day, a relationship, a crisis, a problem or a life are invaluable tools on the way to building a more ethical approach to human existence. I encourage everyone to do what johnburger2013 does here as frequently as they can. If you are willing to share it with us, I will be grateful.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, From The Ethics Alarms “It’s NOT Okay To Be White?” Files: The Blacks-Only Opinion Section:

Alright, Ethics Alarmers. I must declare that I had one miserable weekend. Apropos of absolutely nothing, and related to nothing on this post, I thought I would relate the weekend’s experiences, simply to show that Ethics Alarms is having a positive impact on your humble correspondent. This is long, so bear with me.

It all began this past Friday evening. Our son is 13, in eighth grade, and is considering high school choices. The top three are Catholic, and the main differences are the cultures within the schools. The top two choices are all-boy schools, one Jesuit and one Basilian. The other is co-ed. Great schools. Friday night’s descent into madness began with a declaration that the Basilian school is his preferable choice to the Jesuit, resulting in a very strange argument, with hurt feelings, confusion, chaos, and shouting (handled very well by little ol’ me, oh yes, indeed! Sheesh.). On an ethics scale, my handling of the situation is still being calculated as it has passed more than -3500 on the Kelvin Scale of Absolute Stupidity, perhaps setting a new world record.

Anger and recriminations festered until the next morning. I took The Boy to his HSPT prep class. Ah, yes. The exalted HSPT. The all-important, all-consuming, all-destructive HSPT upon which the entire fate of humanity rests. Discussions en route to the class included such observations as, “Great! You left your notebook at home. That shows real organization skills and concern for you to do well, son.” Ethics Score: 2.9, or possibly a 3, if you discount the yellow-to-red light I rolled through.

Then, I returned to home to get some stuff done before picking The Boy up from the class. I was already on edge, and discovered that the pooch had decided to enjoy some of my wife’s lovely tree ornaments and left the resulting elation in shreds in the middle of the living room. That lead to a stern pooch reprimand. Considering that his mind is simply a buzz with constant low-level static, he wagged his tail and asked for a treat. Considering the torn apart ornament, he did not get a cookie. Ethics Score: 6, as I realized that he is still a puppy, the red-coated Santa ornament looked an awful lot like his favorite stuffed jalapeño toy, and was hanging in the perfect spot so he couldn’t resist the temptation.

Aggravated by having to fix a door latch, which took longer than I expected, and cleaning up the destroyed ornament, and a host of other nuisances, I was late picking up The Boy, well, by 2 minutes and nobody was annoyed. The trip to get him though, completely fails to register on the Ethics Score Board because of the many cursings and deleted expletives still echoing in my car. Rush’s “Hemispheres” could not fix that problem. Wow.

After leaving school, I had to get new screws for the door latch. That is when things got really ugly. Mind you, all of this happened between 8:30 am and 12;30 pm. A mere four hours. See? Awful.

I intended to go a local hardware store to get larger flat-headed wood screws and sanding paper to fix the mess I made on the door’s frame. A ten minute drive took well over 30 minutes because of traffic (horrendous), bad drivers (way too many), incessant stop lights (why can’t they be synchronized to ensure traffic flow?!), and already frayed nerves. Now, this hardware store is where you go to get things you won’t find in big stores, and is generally a wonderful experience (except for that damn parrot that shrieks when I walk by, but that is a different story), and the employees are wonderful. For some reason, the entire city of Houston, Texas, decided to be in the store and the same time. I needed two screws and two anchors. Is that too much to ask? They remodeled since the last time I was in the store and moved everything around so I couldn’t find the screw section. The aisle markers hadn’t been changed so I was wandering around looking for screws. I give the store a two-point deduction for that.

At this point, I am no longer rational. I asked a fellow who I believed worked at the store where the screws were. He couldn’t tell because he didn’t work there. I hang my ethics head in shame at my response. I was rude, inconsiderate, and terribly unkind to this man, who was as pleasant as a person could be. I was completely in the wrong. He did not deserve my response. But, I was too committed to being a tool to stop. I walked away in disgust, and then found the damn screws and anchors, which I bought. Then, it dawned on me: I insulted a man with no justification. I had to make it right. Ethics Score: Zero. F-.

I searched the store for the man, and upon seeing him, I could tell he was thinking, “Here comes that jerk.” I approached him, and said, “Sir. I need to apologize to you. I was terribly rude to you and you did not deserve it. I sincerely apologize for my behavior. I am having a bad day and I took it out on you without any justification. Hope I haven’t ruined your day. Please accept my apology.” His response: Instead of giving me a much-deserved tongue lashing and possibly a kick in the ethics backside, he said, “Apology accepted. I could tell you were not having a good day. I hope your day gets better.” His Ethics Score: A+. My response: “Sir, you are very kind and I truly appreciate your considerate response.” We shook hands, and smiled, him patting me on the back, reassuring me that “this, too, will pass.” A very nice fellow.

My Ethics Apology: I hope a 1, especially because I resolved to settle down and reevaluate my behavior, which I did. My nerves mended and I was less agitated for the rest of the day. That evening, in the confessional, I confessed my terrible conduct especially to my wife, son, and that poor-unsuspecting hardware fellow. The priest gave me advice, absolution, and penance. Which I did. Continue reading

33 Comments

Filed under U.S. Society

It’s Thanksgiving, And Time For The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [Updated And With A New Introduction For 2017 ]

 

Last year (to the day) when I posted the Ethics Alarms ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” one of the great ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season, I wrote, “I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.”  As it turned out, we need it even more in 2017.

Multiple forces have been hard at work for a full year now, roiling the nation, painting the future as dire and the present as unbearable, trying to divide us and even to encourage discord and conflict during this special time when we are supposed to remember what is most important in life. In case you have been infected, it’s not politics and not partisan agendas, but love, family, community, kindness, and friends. The simple message of Frank Capra’s masterpiece—it has aged far better than his other films, including, and maybe especially, “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”—that no one is a failure who has friends, is vital to recall when so many are rejecting friends because they don’t conform to some ideological talking point. This is madness, and watching and heeding “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a better remedy than Thorazine.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer actually told his Twitter followers this week to bring a chart prepared by a  think tank to attack the Republican tax plan during Thanksgiving dinner. This is part of the effort to politicize everything in our lives, by zealots who value power over humanity, country, and spirituality. They belong with Mr. Potter, not George and Clarence.

I need this movie more in 2017 than usual for other reasons. It has been a year in which I have lost many peers and cherished friends, and listened to too many of the living bemoan the passage of time and looming mortality.  I don’t think like that—a lifetime gift from my brave and fatalist father—but I can’t pretend that the game clock isn’t running out, or not face the fact that I have not sunk anywhere near the baskets I could have and should have. Fortunately, what I wrote in an earlier year introducing this post still resonates…

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.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving, everyone.

And 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. The framing of the tale seems to advance 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.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives an ethical live, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..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— perhaps because George has not been “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.

5. George’s Speech

Continue reading

9 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Daily Life, Family, Government & Politics, Love, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/21/17

GOOOOD morning!

Ready for an ethical week?

1.  I am beginning to wonder if aimless protesting and demonstrating has become a fad. Here is one piece of evidence: over the weekend, dozens of New York City police officers held a rally in support of getting quarterback Colin Kaepernick a job in the National Football League. Among the demonstrators was Frank Serpico, made famous by Al Pacino’s portrayal (Do not watch that movie now, as it has aged horribly), who must be bored or something.

What possible good can this rally do, other than to serve as some kind of perverse virtue-signaling by police (“I support the guy who said that when I’m falsely accused of murder, I should lose my salary before there’s an investigation or a fair determination of what really happened! Love me!”)? If the rally is supposed to tell NFL teams who they should hire to play based on talent alone, no team in its right mind will or should pay attention. “Hey, a bunch of cops in Brooklyn think that Colin’s better than we think he is. What the hell: lets give him a few million bucks!” If the rally is mostly about his National Anthem-dissing stunt,  all they are doing is guaranteeing that the borderline quarterback will stay unemployed. Kaepernick, by his own actions (and routinely inarticulate and simple-minded justification of them) irreversibly made linked his political stand to his football abilities. It’s like the dilemma Michael Sam created when he made a big deal about being openly gay. Was he being drafted because he was gay and the NFL didn’t want to appear bigoted, or because he was good enough to play? When he was cut, was it really because he was gay (Naturally Sam hinted it was) or because the team’s management thought it would have a better team on the field without him? The same was true of Tim Tebow: if a team cut him, it was suspected of hating God. Who needs a constant distraction like that?

If a protest can’t accomplish anything constructive, then it’s an unethical protest.

2. Popular culture in the Age of Trump is sending even more muddled and unethical messages that it used to. I’m trying to get though Marvel’s latest for Netflix, “The Defenders”, a series based on Marvel’s second-tier super-hero team that consisted of a rotating squad of hopeless mismatches, like Dr. Strange and the Submariner. It has been recast as a group of urban misfits (Bulletproof ghetto warrior Luke Cage, depressive and cynical strong girl Jessica Jones, blind super-nimble lawyer Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) and boring young tycoon Eastern master Iron Fist, whose real name I can’t remember. Yesterday i watched, Luke, easily the most likable of the four, berate Iron Fist because we was white, rich, “privileged,” and had the cruelty and audacity to regard a young black kid who was being paid to spray acid on multiple murder victims of a sinister criminal enterprise as a criminal himself. “He just needs a job,” explains the huge, indignant, racist, classist, bullet-proof black guy.

Oh, well, that’s all right then! (Pssst! Luke! Don’t hurt me, but it’s called “accessory after the fact.”) Continue reading

81 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Popular Culture, Race, Sports, U.S. Society

More Ethics Movies For The Holidays: “Woman In Gold”

portrait-of-adele-bloch-bauer-i-by-gustav-klimt

The movie critics site “Rotten Tomatoes”calls “Woman in Gold” dull, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about “Rotten Tomatoes.” No, there are no explosions, no sex scenes, no CGI, just a well-acted, powerful story of how justice can take a long time to prevail, but given enough dedication, integrity and luck, it still does prevail with sufficient frequency to stave off despair.

“Woman in Gold” is a 2015 film starring Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren. It is a virtual docudrama telling the true story (mostly accurately) of Maria Altmann (Mirren), a plucky Jewish refugee in Los Angeles, who, assisted by her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, battled the government of Austria  to obtain the return of Gustav Klimt’s renowned portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. That painting, along with more by Klimt and  other painters as well, were among the art treasures stolen by the Nazis  prior to World War II. The legal battle ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States, and the conflict was finally settled by a shocking decision by an Austrian panel of mediators. You can read about the real case here.

It may be dull to dull minds, as Red Smith famously said about baseball, but I have seen the film twice now, and it moved me to tears both times. “Woman in Gold” shows once more, as I fervently believe, that right can and often does triumph over bureaucracies, greed, power and stupidity, and that lawyers, maligned as they are, are often essential to that process. Schoenberg shows us the epitome of a zealous and courageous lawyer, making personal and professional sacrifices for a cause he comes to believe is important both to his client and to humanity. Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, War and the Military

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

On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

christmas-hero-H

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington foundation threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it us well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said…

Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

Resuscitating and revitalizing Christmas in our nation’s heart will take more than three ghosts, and will require overcoming political correctness maniacs, victim-mongers and cultural bullies; a timid and dim-witted media, and spineless management everywhere. It is still worth fighting for.

More than five years ago, Ethics Alarms laid out a battle plan to resist the anti-Christmas crush, which this year is already underway. Nobody was reading the blog then; more are now. Here is the post: Continue reading

134 Comments

Filed under Childhood and children, U.S. Society

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