COM 563: Ethics for Professionals

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Community members plant pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention Month

Community members plant pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention Month

Ethics was a challenging and thought-provoking course, but also one I enjoyed and valued greatly. The readings, written assignments, and forum-based discussions nudged me to work for a deeper understanding of other students principles, and to articulate more clearly my own guideposts to an ethical life.

In my blog post Balance: Gotta Have It, I explored the idea that an ethical process would — by definition — lead to ethical results. My personal experience suggests an exclusive focus on any one thing generally leads to a lack of balanced results. And when people and systems are out of balance, there is discomfort and the potential for great harm.

While you’ll get no argument from me about the importance of morality and justice, I do believe there needs to be boots on the ground reality. In our early readings, both Kant and Rawls seemed unable to find balance between theory and practice, with one demanding obedience to a categorical imperative and the other advocating for a veil of ignorance. It seems to me, though, to put these theories to work requires linking motive, action and outcome in a way people and organizations can embrace.

Pick-Up SticksThis is incredibly important, especially when working towards strengthening and supporting individuals and communities. People have strengths, hopes, and dreams — not just challenges and vulnerabilities. Sadly, though, it seems mostly challenges and vulnerabilities speak to those controlling the flow of funding, policy and social program development. Why is that?

In my blog post Pick Up Those Sticks, I examine the unethical manipulation of information. Common cause seems united in its efforts to neatly avoid acknowledging individual and community roles in oppression. Michael Parenti, in Methods of Media Manipulation, states: “The corporate mainstream media seldom stray into territory that might cause discomfort to those who hold political and economic power, including those who own the media or advertise in it.”

In my final project for this class, I zeroed in on the practice and ethics of advocacy journalism, asking where the voice of reason can be found when the public both distrusts mainstream media yet eagerly buys into the hype and drama. What is it about our culture, our society, that bars people from more thoughtfully considering other viewpoints, other ideas? Has our communication become so ingrained in shock value and sound bytes that we have warped our society?

To me, these sorts of questions are why is it important to understand what informs the choices and actions of the people and businesses that make up these system we live in. We need to understand the motivations and drivers because individual and institutional ethics are used to frame and justify choices and actions. It is just as critical to understand that no individual or institution exists independently of the other.

System dynamics, expressed through communication tactics and platforms, are tricky to grasp if studied without a personal ethical framework or the ability and willingness to examine those dynamics from the ethical point of view of the other. In my blog post It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me, I had a bit of fun with the complexities of a “code” or “guidelines” subscribed to — although not necessarily adhered to — by individuals and institutions.  All the study and articulation of ethical ideals matter little if, in the long run, we do not conduct ourselves accordingly.

DSCN2606 - CopyBefore enrolling in WSU’s Strategic Communications graduate degree program, I spent a semester studying organizational dynamics through the Leadership Institute of Seattle.

A final paper I wrote during this time, Living into Mission: An Exploration of a System in Distress, would have been strengthened by the addition of a clear ethical framework providing some possible approaches to resolving the system distress.

One of my guideposts-personally and professionally-is a belief that:

Advocacy work requires both the revealing of an issue or problem as well as a solution.

And, on that note, it’s time to forge ahead!


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