By: Mike Campbell,
sassda board & main committee member
I was contacted by sassda’s Stainless Steel Magazine’s Editorial Committee to write a guest article on Ethics for the next edition of the magazine.
Why me, I asked myself, as I suspected that I was in danger of entering a potential societal minefield!
Then, against my initial fears, I decided to explore the topic.
I must point out that the picture below is from a layperson when it comes to what I understand to be what Ethics is about. In thinking about the topic I decided to look up a definition of the word. No surprises, it forces one to look up further words and so it goes on. It occurred to me that, if I am representative of the average layperson, some of these definitions are not often considered let alone formally taught to us during our lifetimes.
As you will see, we live by these concepts whether we know it or not and, whether we like it or not!
A definition of Ethics goes like this “The branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles.” Well fine but what is meant by moral principles, you may ask?
It goes something like this: “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.” The definition of morality then opens other doors like Culture and Religion so back to the dictionary!
Culture is defined as “the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society” and I thought a look at a definition of Religion might be useful, so here is one that I found, “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially God or gods.”
No wonder, I thought, that to write an article about Ethics is touching on an area of societal make up which is “minefieldish”! Books have been written about each of the definitions above so where does that leave you and me?
Fortunately for me, or so I believe, there is help at hand.
We citizens of the Republic of South Africa live in a democracy which has numerous segments of society having many different cultures, religions and beliefs. This can and does lead to potential emotional confrontations. However, we have we are told, an overarching set of rules to live by and, according to my laypersons knowledge, of the best in the world, a Constitution and, the absolute foundation, a Bill of Rights.
So back to the definitions! Constitution, “A body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organisation is acknowledged to be governed” and Bill of Rights, “a formal declaration of the legal and civil rights of the citizens of any state, country, federation etc.”
Where does the above path leave us? Well, you can do what you like provided you comply FIRSTLY with the Bill of Rights and SECONDLY with the constitution. My layperson’s understanding is that the Bill of Rights overrules any law/ behaviour which violates it including the Constitution. All laws passed through relevant institutions are subject to these rules as are religions, cultural norms and so on.
It seems to me that murder, bodily harm,theft, lying, fraudulent misrepresentation and so on is covered by the above.
So, to come back to Ethics, Ethics is usually a subject of oratorical debate. When one wishes to look at it in its most refined and eloquent form, one can simply look at the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of any nation or governed body. These documents literally reflect the conversations of leaders who came to an agreement as to what the most ethical behaviour in society should be, based on their commonality in morals. Also, as time goes by, the documents become refined by the courts of the respective countries to which they belong.
Sadly, my understanding is that many of our country’s residents have not been schooled in many of the above realities that we live by and maybe it is a good place to start, that is, to educate the citizenry as to the contents and relevance of these documents to our daily lives.
In the meanwhile I do believe that most people know when they are doing something that is wrong even if the first clue is that little, let alone big, twitch in the stomach!? Maybe we, as responsible employers, should be putting our staff and ourselves through some education regarding the Bill of Rights and the Constitution; it seems that many of us may need it.