How often do we ask ourselves, "What is the right thing to do?" and wonder if we are forcing our sense of what is right on other people? Nationally-known ethicist Bruce Weinstein offers five principles everyone can use in ethical decision-making.
Every day, people confront situations -- ethical dilemmas of sorts -- that prompt them to ask themselves, "What should I do?" or "What is the right thing to do?" before acting. Ethical decision-making becomes easier if you follow certain life principles.
Dr. Weinstein suggests everyone use these five principles to guide them in ethical decision-making:
- Do no harm
- Make things better
- Respect others
- Be fair
- Be loving
By putting these ideas into practice, readers can learn to make better decisions that affect their relationships, their careers, and their overall quality of life, according to Dr. Weinstein. Teachers are in a position to help students understand how often they face ethical decisions and learn the best way to address them.
Dr. Weinstein recently talked with Education World about the Life Principles and helping children learn to make decisions ethically.
Education World: What are some ways to engage kids in ethical thinking?
Weinstein: The first step is to help students understand that any time we ask, "What should I do?" and the rights or wellbeing of another person are at stake, we are asking an ethical question. In other words, ethical issues are everywhere! The quiz format is a great way to break the ice and create a lively debate about right and wrong conduct.
EW: How can teachers -- if you think it is their role -- explain to students who see people making bad choices all the time the value of doing the right thing?
Weinstein: When we do the right thing, as opposed to the easy thing, we not only enhance the lives of others; we enhance our own lives. If a student sees a peer cheating on a test and does nothing -- the easy thing to do -- the student knows -- or should know -- that he or she is letting an injustice occur and must thus bear some responsibility for the outcome. If the class is being graded on a curve, for example, the observer of wrongdoing is to some degree guilty for the fact that the cheater has hurt all of the students. Only by taking action -- ideally, notifying the teacher -- can this injustice be dealt with appropriately. There is a sense of satisfaction that flows from doing the right thing, even if one has to find the courage for this to happen. Perhaps it is through discovering that we have the mettle to rise to the challenge that makes us feel good.
Ultimately, it is up to us to decide what kind of life we want to live. We can take the low road and think primarily or exclusively about our own needs and desires. We can steal when no one is looking, cheat whenever we are able, lie when it is convenient, or break promises when something better comes along. We can resolve conflict with force rather than persuasion, because in the short run at least, it is always possible to conquer with violence, but peaceable solutions take time and effort.
If we were lucky, these principles were taught to us by loving parents and concerned teachers as we grew up. In every interaction we can take a moment to think about how our words and deeds may affect other people, particularly the people we care the most about, and make our choices accordingly. We can realize that, yes, we are better off by living a moral life, but the main reason to do so is not for the personal gain but simply because it is the right thing to do.