Truth, Loyalty and Ethics

There has been so much emphasis on corruption, crime and suspicious activity that it seems that we have lost all sense of truth, loyalty and ethics. Reading the newspaper and listening to the news on radio & TV have become quite depressing, even without the crime stories.

First, what is TRUTH? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary it is ‘sincerity in action, character, and utterance’. And yet, when a person, frequently but not always a politician, is reported to have said something that is hurtful or accusatory, when approached for comment will invariably answer, ‘I was quoted out of context.’ Why not tell the truth and apologise straight away as it is sure to haunt one otherwise. In relationships, when one person cheats or does ‘things’ behind a partner’s back out come those famous words, ‘I never meant to hurt you.’ Why not be honest and say, ‘I was aware that what I was doing would hurt you but I did it anyway. I apologise.’ Why do we always try to deny something or worm our way out of it? Probably because we know that the truth hurts – not only those affected by our behaviour but ourselves too. We would much rather pretend something didn’t happen or if, found out, try to play it down; not take responsibility. Then of course, there are those who speak the truth no matter the situation and at times it may be better not to say anything at all.

We then come to LOYALTY. Where truth is about sincerity, loyalty is defined in the Free Dictionary as ‘A feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection’. I find the Wikipedia definition, ‘Faithfulness or devotion to some person, cause or nation’ more specific and it clarifies that loyalty is not only toward family or friends but also to our employers, club memberships, business clients, country and any other groups to which we have committed ourselves. Why then are we so quick to talk about friends and others behind their backs? Why do we constantly run down our country? As I have said before, SA does have problems but then so do most other countries. Ours may seem worse than others but they are different. Do we support our families and friends through every situation? How often we hear the comment, ‘Now, we really know who our friends are’ when someone has been through a difficult or testing time. If it is illness, we all rally around and care for the person or affected family but when it is financial, a social ill we do not approve of or even criminal, we so often turn our backs.

ETHICS is not commonly discussed or even thought about in day-to-day living. Many see it is one of those old-fashioned words which they prefer not to think about. What is ethics? That is much more difficult to define than either truth or loyalty. This is because ethical behaviour can be approached differently in different contexts. What is ethical in business in one country may not necessarily be considered ethical in another; in a particular culture compared with another, in one religion as opposed to another. Broadly, ethics is defined as ‘the rules of conduct recognised in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group or culture.’ For example, in business, is socialist or capitalist more ethical and for whom? Religious ethics deals more with the social morals of a society or an individual whereas in academia, the manner in which one does research needs to follow certain norms and rules. We all know of plagiarism but there are other issues such as correctly citing references. Today, creating a pollution-free environment and being more concerned with protecting it, is a new ethical problem. Which is more ethical:  a) to ensure that all have electricity and water or b) to close-down all coal-driven power facilities and stop building dams for water storage to allow rivers to flow in their natural manner?

As one can see, ethics is the most difficult of these to define, to write about and to practise but I believe that if each of us spoke the truth and remained loyal to all to whom we have made a commitment, we will be considered an ethical person. We would probably see less corruption and crime as well, as we will be creating respect for each other as a priority.

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