Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Sticky Wicket of Ethics

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Should one practice situational ethics? Ever? As a rule, the answer is no, definitely not. As with any rule, however, there are exceptions. One of my biggest rules to live by is the one that says rules were made to be broken.

Is it ever good form to avow one set of values with one group of people, and a diametrically different set with another group -- in order to gain peer approval and acceptance? Of course not.

Is lying to get out of a sticky situation the right thing to do? We all know it isn't. How many of us can honestly say we've never done it, though -- especially as kids?

But -- what about lying to protect someone's feelings? Let's say girlfriend is having a hair day from hell and she's feeling pretty low about it. Do we agree with her that her head's a disaster, or do we instead tell her she looks just fine? I'd opt for the latter. That's one situation in which I'd say a lie won't do any harm and may actually do some good.

Is lying to telemarketers wrong? Perhaps -- which does not preclude me from telling them the house is on fire and hanging up. I see no evil in that, and I'd be very surprised if such a fib results in points deducted from one's karma tally.

What about lying to loved ones to get out of doing something you really don't want to do? Something that not only drags you down mentally but could well end up making you physically ill? I've done it; you probably have, too. It doesn't make me feel good, though. Yet, the truth would make them feel bad. What do you do?

Who's read Spinoza's "Ethics?" I have a dog-eared copy lying around here that gets a reread every few years.

This one sentence says it all:

"There is no cause from whose nature some effect does not follow."

Everything we do, everything we say, affects someone else in some way. Whatever we're doing, we must be mindful of that.

Definitely something ponderable.

20 comments:

Roxan said...

Sometimes you lie to spare people from the truth. Sometimes it is best just to keep quiet. Sometimes the truth is a better option, depending on the situation.

Top cat said...

Sometimes people ask for the truth when they don't really want to hear it.
If one knows answering truthfully will cause pain or result in an argument then it's best to *white lie*
I am a believer in the law of cause and effect. If we leave the house 2 minutes later if can set into motion a whole chain of events.

Very thoughtful post serena.:)
tc

Serena Joy said...

You're right, Roxan. I find that I prefer to just keep quiet (lying by omission) whenever possible rather than tell an outright lie. And, of course, depending on the situation, the truth is preferable -- even if it's going to hurt.

You are so right, TC -- some people really don't want to hear the truth. Or as Jack Nicholson might say, they can't handle the truth. I'd much rather lie by omission (silence) or tell a little white lie than cause pain or arguments.

I definitely believe in that 2-minute law of cause and effect, too.

Corn Dog said...

Ouch. I am so guilty. I worry about this a lot. I always hope after I'm gone the kids (nieces, nephew, step-daughter and her husband) remember me as loving and understanding. Not my natural bent.

cathy said...

The whole point of ethics is doing right by other people which ocasionally means lying to avoid hurting them. I'm all for it though most people who know me well also know when I'm lying. Never mind, practice makes perfect as they say.

Trée said...

S, much wisdom in this post and much food for thought. I believe Aldous Huxley said, "It is better to be kind than to be right." I have no doubt that if I could turn back the clock, I would choose to have been right a few less times. *sigh*

G-Man said...

"Sure honey, that bone in your nose, and that spike in your lip, looks so Avant Garde...
Especially with that blue hair!!"

Spareing ones feelings is an act of kindness sometimes...

I believe it was Arthur Fonzarelli that once said, "Say whatever, as long as it gets you laid....AAAyyyy"

Hale McKay said...

They say the truth hurts. I think this is true sometimes, making it acceptable to, if not lie out right, but at least to stretch the truth the bit. Omission beats comission at times.

Serena Joy said...

I wouldn't worry about that, Corn Dog. Guilt is unhealthy -- and mostly unnecessary. Shoot, I don't care what they think when I'm gone because I'll -- be gone.

I think they can tell when I'm lying, too, Cathy. I'm not sure what it is that gives me away. I'm going to take your advice to heart: Practice DOES make perfect.:-)

Me, too, Trée. Sometimes being right just purely sucks. I'd much rather be thought of as kind. Huxley was right on. Maybe they'll put on my tombstone, "She was vicariously kind more often than she was right, but at least she never shot anybody."

Exactly, G! I'd much rather spare someone's feelings as an act of kindness than hurt them with blunt honesty. Too, I am mindful of that Fonz thing. Life's hard enough. There damn sure ought to be some reward.:-)

Omission beats comission at times.

That sums it up perfectly, Mike. Thank you!:-)

Lee said...

Some rules are definitely made to be broken....they are there to tempt us into stepping over the line into the forbidden zone! And sometimes it can be fun! Yep...I do talk from experience! ;)

littlebirdblue said...

Sometimes, though, "truth" is so subjective... Example; what if, on that "bad hair day" you thought your friend was having, I thought her hair looked great? It happens, all the time. I'm thinking specifically about writing, here. Someone asks you for an opinion on a piece, but just because you don't connect to the piece (say; it's all about the glories of dog ownership, and you couldn't care less about dogs) doesn't mean the piece is no good. It just means it's not interesting enough/relatable enough to YOU for YOU to comment on.

(PSIHEARTSTHEDOGGIES!!!)

Serena Joy said...

That's my downfall, Lee -- temptations and forbidden zones. LOL. It IS fun, which is why I don't plan to stop any time soon.:-)

For sure, LBB. Truth, like everything else, can be subjective. I don't believe there is "absolute truth." Judging a piece of writing can be a hard call. Even when I don't care for the subject matter, I do try to judge it on its merits insofar as HOW its written.

MEHEARTSTHEDOGGIES2!!!

Scary Monster said...

Me thinks that there be no problem with utilizing the art of lying just so long as it is utilized with intelligence and not rancor or maliciousness. Prevarication has gotten me out of some very sticky situations.
I also think that the "Truth" be overrated. People who constantly tell the truth are inconsiderate boors, concerned only with how they view the world.

Iffin you ask me how Me feel.
and Me starts to tell you about me intolerable rectal itch (You may insert a different intolerable topic here) then we ain't gonna have much of a conversation now, are we honey?

Stompalodeo

Serena Joy said...

I like the way you put that, Scary -- "with intelligence and not rancor or maliciousness." If one is going to prevaricate, I think it's important that it be done for the right reasons. Taking the high road and fibbing to avoid injuring someone = okay. Spreading lies about that person out of malice = damned well not okay.

How DO you feel, babe? You know, you can get something at the drugstore for that itch. It'll drive you crazy left untreated.:-)

Annie Wicking and Loman Austen said...

Oh God, I thought I was the only one who lied to Coldcaller:-(

Thank you, I don't feel so bad now
:-)

Best wishes,
Annie

Steve G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve G said...

One should do what their heart tells them. We do have to live with ourselves.

Serena Joy said...

It's okay, Annie -- you can tell BIG whoppers to Coldcaller with no penalties.:-)

Amen, Steve.

Charles said...

I have my own saying, that being: Always tell the truth. There are many truths.
The police deal with this all the time, 3 witnesses, 3 different truths, no one lying.
One can tell the truth, and still have a pure heart. Perception is the key here. One cannot tell what one hasn't perceived, without fabrication. Anymore than that, and its just lying.

If you tell your friend her aberrant hair looks good enough, she may start letting it go, "because it looks good", and lose an opportunity, a potential boyfriend with whom she would have been happy with, her job, her marriage, etc. Who benefits from that? In the case of the marriage, the attorneys, but that's a different debate. Other than that nobody came away better. Tell the truth, if people don't like you for it, its only one of many reasons they can find to not like you.

Serena Joy said...

All very valid points, Charles -- which is one more reason why these scenarios can get so sticky.:)