[Ethics] Should You Bring Some Home for Dinner?

I think one of the major things we have not touched on in this class (and in life) is how our personal ethics interplay with our families. We have discussed our professional and ethical obligation to speak up in the face of injustices, at nosism. If water utility A poisons their users with high lead, as an employee/engineer we would (should) feel obligated to put our career on the line to protect the public’s health. We understand, simple. Admittedly hard to do, but still simple to understand.

We have discussed developing our person code of ethics, adhering to them, and trusting them. If we feel something is wrong, we should act to rectify it. However, we commonly relate these situations to businesses, corporations, summer jobs, a shuttle launch, etc. In these situations, it is you and your ethical code vs a manager, a business practice, a co-worker, or maybe even a friend.

The question I have is, do the same rules apply if you are at home? Do you still apply your code of ethics when it is you vs a family member? Whether it be a parent, sibling, or child? And regardless of if you do apply the same code, should you?

I think the largest difference is that we feel that we owe something to our family members, and through this connection I feel it is easy to blur the ethical line even more.

Think back to our discussion on the valet job, and taking money from the owners share to increase the tip jar and each of the valet’s take home pay. One of the largest justifications for turning your co-workers in was ‘I do not owe them anything, I want to stay true to myself and why would I cover up for people I barely know?’, but what if it wasn’t some random strangers. What if your brother or sister was the ring leader? What if he or she had done you a favor by getting you the job in the first place, and only then did you realize what was going on. Would everyone who turned in their coworkers when they didn’t know them do the same if it was their own blood? I personally don’t think everyone would.

Another situation (the one that got my thinking about this in the first place) goes back to my home town, and the recent death of someone I grew up with to a heroin overdose.

We were not close, I was a few years older, and I will keep my opinions about her and the situation largely to myself; though I will say the media’s portrayal may not be entire consistent with my own opinions of the deceased. Regardless, addiction is a terrible thing, but not entirely the point of this example.

For those interested in a back story, here is a link to the media’s take (video and a write up in the article): http://wamu.org/story/17/10/10/drug-cop-daughter-opioids-one-familys-story-addiction/

In brief, a police officer who worked for multiple years on a Narcotics Task Force was faced with a daughter addicted to heroin, among other illegal substances. For a man who was adamant about “doing God’s work” by fervently arresting and “target[ing] everyone with any connection to the drug trade: supplies, dealers, and addicts” his position on drugs both personally and professional could not be more clear. The question I pose goes back to the blurred lines that family can create. It is obvious (whether right or wrong – since addiction likely needs more treatment than just arrests) that Mr. Simmers felt arresting dealers and users was what he should do professionally (and ethically), but yet he doesn’t apply the same reasoning to his own kin, should he? Should he, since he thought it was the best course of action, have arrested his daughter for possession of illegal drugs? Professionally? Ethically?

In the end he didn’t, as I doubt most people would. I think it highlights a unique point that people generally work on developing their personal code of ethics, applying it to their professional work place, and (seemingly) throwing it out in their family lives. This begs the questions, should ethics stop when you clock out, or should you bring ethics home with dinner?

3 Replies to “[Ethics] Should You Bring Some Home for Dinner?”

  1. I started to write a reply before I read the article. I was going to say that the police officer should have turned her in and had her arrested, because it is his professional obligations to treat everyone equally in the eyes of the law. I was going to say that professional obligations should always stay separate from personal obligations, and often your professional obligations are more important (which is why “conflict of interest” came about).

    But then I read the article, and I just can’t say any of that anymore. While professional obligations SHOULD still trump personal obligations if it will come at the expense of others (especially the safety or well being of others), you can’t always do that. If I was in the same situation, I can say with 100% certainty that my father would do ANYTHING to help me, including lying to the hospital so that I get admitted, or trying to keep me out of jail if he thought he could get me better help elsewhere. It’s definitely a grey area, but I think the world would be a terribly cold place if we didn’t have that urge to do ANYTHING for one another, even if it means breaking moral and ethical codes. It’s what makes us human.

  2. I think we have considered our own families more than in any ethics class I can think of. It’s why we talked about what kind of wage is livable. It’s why we are invited to Marc’s house to meet his family. The “mother test” is featured in the YPSG as an exercise for understanding ethical actions.

    ” If we feel something is wrong, we should act to rectify it.”

    I think the point of this class is not to beat it into our heads that we should do something (and, of course, wrong is relative), but to ask ourselves, would we do something? And if we wouldn’t, why not, and if we would, why? Our capacity to act is a very personal thing, and so is our connection to family.

    “Should he, since he thought it was the best course of action, have arrested his daughter for possession of illegal drugs?”

    My retort to this question is: ethics in real life are only sort of about the “best course of action,” which wrestles with the rest of our irrational brains. Considering the class where we watched how people are predisposed to conformism – conforming is not necessarily the best course of action, but we do it anyway.

    Not arresting her could mean he had a different system of ethics for his daughter, or that not arresting her was consistent with a weird code of ethics (“I will protect my family” is a creed that could work here) or that he was accepting an ethical cost (people can do unethical things and still work with ethics in mind). It’s messy all around when your brain wrestles itself. If it is as simple as something you can check at the door, then it deserves sophisticated reflection.

  3. I think the example of bringing your work ethics home in your blog is tough to distinguish because of the blurred lines involved with addiction. In a more transparent case of upholding principles: My mom used to be a police officer. One day one of brothers was caught with their friends on a home security system (friends my parents told him were no good), breaking into someone’s home to steal. Family members called to warn us that a boy was on the news who looked just like my brother and my mom should check into it to make sure he doesn’t get in trouble for “something he didn’t do.” Long story short my parents made brother turn himself into the juvenile correction facility where he stayed until his court date and was eventually placed on probation. In my parent’s case, there wasn’t a “better” way to help my brother, he stole, and the only option was jail. People get away with breaking into people’s houses a lot in Atlanta, and my parents could have looked the other way and not made my brother fess up, but that would not follow her principles.

    For the father in this story, he had more than just one obligation. He was responsible for his daughter as a father and as a police officer. As a father, he had to get her help so she could recover, for addicts he often locked them up probably because that was only one way he was within his abilities to “help” them. As an officer, he does not have the power to drop every addict off at a rehab facility; he can only take them to jail, where they could be off the streets. In my parent’s case, they did not have a sick child to take care of they just had a son who broke the law, where this man had a daughter who was sick first and broke the law second. Things are never black and white when it comes to ethics; you just have to do the best you can with the knowledge you have. The officer has since changed his perception of how he sees addiction and the means for helping to stop it differently which is all you could expect from people. I do not think you should bring the same ethical codes home with you because you have an obligation to your family to help them to learn what is wrong and right, whereas outside of the house you can only discern the right and wrong of others and act accordingly.

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