Ethical dilemmas are internal and, sometimes, external arguments one must wrestle with to make decisions. These decisions often times deal with ones morals, which can make the end result difficult for a large group of people to understand and accept. Over the years, many philosophers and ethicists have argued with what is the correct was to perceive and argue an ethical stance. Some, like Kant, argue a deontological form of ethics where consequences do not matter, as long as you fulfill your duty. On the opposite side of the spectrum, ethicists like Ayn Rand argue a consequentialist viewpoint where consequences and their results are all that should matter when one is deciding an ethical dilemma (Ruggiero, 2012).
Ethical dilemmas can vary in size and intensity and many people will go through various moral struggles throughout their life. This paper will look at a particular ethical struggle that happened in 2015 while working at a large university, and how drawing from multiple ethical schools of thought can help with the decision making process.
This ethical dilemma takes place in 2015 while working for a large university. My role while working there was a strength and conditioning coach, which means I trained the athletes. I worked with a few other coaches who were hired around the same times as me and had become friends with a couple of them. The ethical dilemma I was presented with involved a breach of contract that one of my coworkers and friends had done. One of the other strength and conditioning coaches had mentioned that he was in a relationship with one of the student athletes that he and I were both working with. In the hiring process, all the trainers were required to sign a waiver stating that they would not be in a relationship with any athlete for five years after they left the university. This type of offense could have very serious consequences’, some of which include the university being put on probation, my coworker getting fired, and the student involved getting kicked out of school. In addition to how this decision would affect others, my own moral compass also played a factor on the end result.
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This ethical dilemma allowed me to argue with a few possible decisions I could have made. The first possible outcome would have been to ignore the whole situation and move on with my own training and my own business. This thought process follows an objectivist view point where an individuals goals are the most important and its impact on others does not influence the decision process. This decision was tempting because it allowed me to disengage with the situation because it did not directly involve me.
The next option that I could have chosen was to go to my boss, who was the athletic director for the school, and inform him of the offense that had occurred. This decision follows a deontological ethical thought process because the end result of this decision does not matter. By telling the person in charge, I would have been doing the right thing for the organization by letting them deal with it and stop the relationship from going further, which is what the contract stated. This decision would have resulted in my coworker getting fired, which again would not have affected me much. Morally I would have felt bad with this decision because the coworker had become my friend and I truly didn’t want him to get fired.
The last possible decision I could have made was to talk with my coworker to try and have him change his mind about the relationship because of the risks he was both putting on himself and the program. This is the decision I eventually chose because I thought it would do the least damage to all parties involved. With this decision, I followed a consequentialist ethical school of thought, because the results of the decision are what drove me to choose this option (Dobrin, 2012). This option allowed me to possible prevent my coworker for being fired, along with the firing of others involved, as well as allowed me to know I chose a moral decision I was happy with. While I do regret not having gone to the athletic director about the incident, I am happy I resolved the issue before anything bad happened.
This ethical dilemma is a great example of how multiple schools of thought can be involved in a decision process. In this decision, I utilized a consequentialist, objectivist, and deontological viewpoint to come to my decision. This also shows that, contrary to the beliefs of major ethicists, one can have multiple ethical schools of though throughout a lifetime, and variability is good in many cases depending on the situation. I primarily act in the deontological school of thought because that was how I was raised, and yet here I was able to use a consequentialist view because it fit the situation the best.
Some of the key points to this issue involve internal and external matters. Some of the external key points that caused this dilemma to become an ethical one are that it could have resulted in one of my coworker and friends to get fired, shortly after being hired. Another external key point is that the university could suffer by having the student getting expelled and kicked off the team and the University getting fined and having different restrictions put on it and other sports for years to come. These major external issues caused
While the consequences of this decision would affect others, they also would affect myself, making them internal struggles. These included going against my typical ethical style of deontology and wondering how I would be perceived for my decision. By making a decision that could be perceived as going behind my friend and coworkers back, I worried that I could be kicked out of the group and no longer felt included, as well as lose the trust of the athletes, who also knew of the relationship. These internal and external dilemmas are what caused me to make my decision to talk with my coworker rather than ignore the situation or go to my boss.
Kants’ Categorical Imperative
Kant’s categorical imperative, which is called the golden rule, is to treat others the way you wish to be treated. Based off this definition, the decision I made absolutely fits in with this way of thinking. This ethical dilemma had multiple different options but in the end I chose to talk with my coworker rather than ignore the situation or report him to the proper authority. While I like to believe that I would not do a similar thing that my coworker did, if I were in the same situation, I would like someone to act the way I did. Kant’s categorical imperative follows his typical deontological approach but allows for a more moral view on this school of ethics.
In a research article titled What is it to do good ethics? the authors looked at how one develops a deontological path when deciding morally challenging decisions (Callahan, 2015). This paper argued against traditional Kantian ethics because, in todays society, consequentialist thinking is more realistic because of the larger variety in ones upbringing. By this, they mean that varied upbringing leads to a higher amount of opinions, all of which need to be taken into account when making an ethical decision that could impact others. While the golden rule does have a great purpose in today world, general Kantian ethics of “do the right thing” does not always work when deciding, because the right thing varies a lot based on how you were raised.
Ayn Rands’ Objectivist View
The second ethical view that fits well with this situation is the objectivist view. Ayn Rand believed that the only consequence that mattered in a decision was the positive result towards those that made the decision. This can often be looked at as a selfish act but does have a lot of weight behind it. The main purpose of humans is to survive and procreate. Because this goal only involves the person in question, the objectivist school of ethics works great when looking at humanity as an individual. As stated earlier, the objectivist ethical view would have been used if I had ignored the whole situation because that would have benefited me the most. There would have been less stress in the situation because I would remove myself from it entirely. The end result for me would have been the same regardless of the decision path I chose. So why not just choose the objectivist path that would have allowed me to be the least involved and look out for only myself?
The last ethical school that I could have followed in this decision is that of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is similar to deontology except for the fact that the consequence no longer matters at all and you only do what is right. This was developed by Aristotle and was further developed by those of the church. The consequences of not following this view were usually hell. I am not a religious person so this viewpoint does not matter to me as much as a consequentialist or objectivist viewpoint does. This does play a role in ethical dilemma resolution for someone who is religious however. When making a decision, a person of faith must look at what the consequence does to them, others, and how their faith would react to the decision. Faith in this case could be viewed as a second layer to the moral compass. In this particular ethical dilemma though, virtue ethics were not in use.
Which is better?
Again, as argued in the beginning of this paper, there is no correct ethical school of though all the time. While early philosophers and ethicists believed that it was their way or the highway, situational awareness should play a factor in deciding how you want to make a decision. One quote that states this quite well is “As an ethical person you may reflect upon your own integrity (the virtue school), or try to do more good than bad (the consequentialist approach), or adhere to ethical principles (the deontological philosophy). We each are inclined to favor one approach over the other. But good ethical judgment often requires finding the right mix for the particular circumstances at hand” (Dobrin, 2012). This dilemma had a lot of moving pieces to it and involved many different emotions and relationships which made it a difficult decision. Because of this, I lean towards Kants’ Categorical Imperative as a more sound and acceptable route for decision making, especially in this instance.
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I was raised with the belief that you should always do good, and in addition to that, do unto others, the way you would want to be treated. Because of this upbringing I typically adopt a deontological thought process to help me make decisions. I often times try and do what is perceived as right regardless of the consequences. This type of thought does help with everyday tasks and allows me to stick to my morals, which include the golden rule. This type of ethical leadership brought me to where I am today and does have some positive role in the workplace. One article looking at a deontological versus consequentialist school of ethics in the workplace shows that both are beneficial. By leading by example and trying your best to display and follow good ethics, someone in a leadership position can positively and significantly relate to employee performance (Walumbe et al, 2010). What this shows is that while the end result is important in the decision process, stick to an ethical school of thought and being consistent can also increase employee productivity and consistency.
Conflicts and Controversies
Because emotions and relationships were all in play while making this decision, I had to look inside and truly decide what I thought was best. One common mistake that is made in ethical or moral decisions is allowing the morals and/or thoughts of others to enter into the conversation. One article looked at how others opinions can often influence one’s decision process. This shows that one of the primary dilemmas in this situation was how others would react to my decision. I was still fairly new to the company and did not want to be shunned for doing what I thought was right.
This controversy was that in large social situations, people might not act on their own morals due to the perceived reaction by their peers and employers. One article by Sekerka and Baagozzi (2007) show that “moral courage can be better understood, encouraged, and taught by learning what contributes to organizational moral flourishing” (Sekerka &Baagozzi, 2007). This article showed that the university, and other organizations should work towards creating a more anonymous system for reporting problems to reduce the risk of people backing away from difficult topics, and increase the number of whistleblowers that can help make the workplace a safer and more progressive environment.
Another lesser-known controversy in this ethical dilemma involved the relationship between the athletes and myself. I was in a position of power and because of that, had earned the respect and trust of the athletes. This controversy involved trying to keep the trust of the athletes while still handling the situation in an ethically responsible way. The risk of reporting my coworker was that it could reduce their trust in me, which in turn could negatively impact their training and on field performance. This trust was a major part of the decision on whether or not to report my friend. One article stated that in a training environment “Effective medical care depends on trust, and it is clear that inconsistent application of principles around privacy will not create a trusting environment” (Testoni et al, 2013).
Ethics is an interesting subject which deals with an individuals morals, relationships, and emotions. Since the beginning of the subject, those in charge of developing different ethical schools of thought argued that their way was the best and that other schools of thought were bad, often times leading those individuals to hell. This paper looked as how in today’s society, an ethical dilemma needs to be looked at through different lenses because of the large number of factors in each scenario. This ethical dilemma only directly involved two people, but indirectly it involved over 100. These factors need to be used and gauged when making a decision showing that a Kantian belief of doing the most good is helpful, but looking at the potential consequences of the decision are just as important.
In the end, the decision that was made to talk directly to my coworker worked out and no one was hurt or fired which meant the situation war resolved effectively. The process working towards the decision however mattered more than most would believe showing that a background in ethics does help with some of the decision-making. Ethical dilemmas can vary in size and intensity and many people will go through various moral struggles throughout their life. I hope that this paper will act as a reference point to those with ethical struggles in the workplace.
- Callahan, D. (2015, January 01). What is it to do good ethics? Retrieved from https://jme.bmj.com/content/41/1/68
- Dobrin, A., D.S.W. (2012, May 18). 3 Approaches to Ethics: Principles, Outcomes, and Integrity. Psychology Review
- Ruggiero, V. R. (2012). Thinking critically about ethical issues (8th ed.). New York: Mc-Graw Hill.
- Sekerka, L. E., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2007, March 20). Moral courage in the workplace: Moving to and from the desire and decision to act. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-8608.2007.00484.x
- Testoni, D., Hornik, C., Smith, B., Benjamin, D., & McKinley, R., Jr. (2013). Sports Medicine and Ethics. National Institute of Health,13(10), 4-12. doi:doi:10.1080/15265161.2013.828114.
- Walumbwa, F., Mayer, D., Wang, P., Wang, H., Workman, K., & Christensen, A. (2010, December 08). Linking ethical leadership to employee performance: The roles of leader–member exchange, self-efficacy, and organizational identification. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S074959781000107X
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