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How often do I reflect and self-reflect on my role as an ethical agent in work communication situations?

mwshealy / Theory / 0 Comments

QUESTIONS: How often do I reflect and self-reflect on my role as an ethical agent in work communication situations? When I began teaching, as a young poststructuralist, I spent a lot of time thinking about myself and about thinking and about myself thinking—but I rarely wondered if I was involved in an “ethical” enterprise within an ethical organization. The questions surrounding ethics were problematic, intriguing, intractable, and disposable. Later as a librarian, library manager, administrator, and director for the Air Force, I did consider the ethics of organizational situations…quite a bit…but not in any theoretical sense. I wondered nearly daily whether my decisions were the most ethical for my staff, for patrons/customers, for other in organization, for my superiors. Some of the time the answer was “no”—but rarely in regard to big picture issues. When I felt moved to confront the higher ups or justify my actions in a formal way—or remove myself from an organization or project—it was always in regard to a specific work situation involving communications (since I’m in the education and information business) and how I (and my cohorts) did or did not handle the situation in an ethical (and professional) manner. Usually the need to be “professional” and the need to be ethical seemed to be at odds.

  • In the introduction, May appeals to his audience’s sense of professionalism and innate ethics, assumes that his readers want to understand the ethical implications of how they act at work, that they want to understand their own ethical motives and want to make workplace communication more ethically sensitive in its functionality (as if function and ethic are intertwined). At times, however, his underlying message seems subtly to be that a for-profit motive is antithetical (not just apparently incompatible) to an ethics-driven motive…and this implication may not be intentional. If an ethics is always concerned with human needs and human rights, then is a corporate culture that emphasizes techno-economic growth by nature indifferent to ethical considerations? Isn’t the businesswoman concentrating on doing the right thing before making money usually the financial loser?
  • Reviewing May’s list of “organizational misconduct” (p. 3)it strikes me that communications is more central in some cases than others, that bad ethics manifest itself in language, in action, and in intent (and must be addressed by value systems that emphasize one of the dimensions more than the others). For instance, in the cases of Madoff, Goldman Sachs, WorldCom, and Martha Steward, language is the focal point around which ethical issues converge; in the cases of Tyco, Qwest, and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, the focal point is action; with the Boy Scouts, Abu Ghraib, steroids in sports, and the Catholic Church sex scandals, the focal point—obliquely—must be intent (aligned with action). Should I consider in my own actions whether language/symbol, action, or intent (mind) is primary in a particular dilemma? Would my consideration determine what ethical system (deontological, consequentialist, pragmatic, postmodern, virtue-driven, etc.) I might refer to in creating a framework for “solving” the problem? It seems to me that one goal of this class (as for May) is to make us more aware of the history of ethics, the scholarship in contemporary applied ethics, and our own agency and accountability as TC professionals.
  • (offside) Why would there be a renewed interest in organization ethics? Are we Americans moving from a relativist business ethic (a reaction to the social programs in the USA from 1940-1980) to a more global, consensus-building ethic, one attuned to a sort of 4th-wave feminism?

INSIGHTS: The organization’s use of descriptive ethics (for reports and investigations), normative ethics (especially in ideologically-centered organizations) and analytical ethics (as the meta-ethical algorithm): this approach to thinking through, understanding, the group’s ethical complex was new to me.

  • Given May’s description (p. 10) of a “new social contract” (an ironic version of Rousseau’s) that seems, by his wording, to lie outside considerations of ethics, this implies that any worker ethics must confront the a-ethical structure of the now global corporate state.
  • The tensions of foundational versus situational and individual versus community speaks 1. to ethics as a dilemma between the absolute and the relative threaded through both Western ethics and epistemology and 2. to power relations as the basis for still remaining issues and puzzles over how we do and should act, an ethical “tensor” older than Foucault’s Greece and probably best approached by anthropology.

OBSERVATIONS: Milton Friedman, that shibboleth of Free Market chaos, and the issue of radical anti-socialism does raise a key issue for me personally in this class. Due to my crush on Keynes and lifelong fascination with macroeconomics, to my affection and activity in soft Christian Socialism, to my naïve attachment to all things organizational (if Homo sapiens grouped are seen as a Human Machine), it may mean that my not singular ethics, my not unique filter, is going to prevent me from being the sort of value-detached TC professional that I need to be at work and in this class to truly grasp the ethical complexities I will need to work and comprehend. The only way to be TC ethical is to be ethically unattached. Which is not the same thing as being unethical in my private life. And which brings us back to the question of a binary ethical self in the contemporary scene: good/bad at home and/or good/bad at work.

  • Duty, Right, Utility, Value, Relationship: As I stated earlier, once I consider an informed framework, make a choice, and move on to the next ethical communication issue at work, my professional approach to ethics is under-idealistic; it assumes that the act of deliberating (in dialogic fashion) is an end in itself. This class is an eye-opener, however, and I might learn that I know less about ethics and being an ethical communicator than I think I do.
  • May ends, in the Afterward, with what strikes me as a reference (“How did I get here?”) by David Byres of the band Talking Heads, from their ironic yuppie anti-manifesto of 1980 for the Voodoo Economics worker. Lyrics below:

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
After the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife

Same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was…

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself yourself
My God!…What have I done?!

 

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