Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Prosperous Writer - Ethical


Oh, boy!  Am I excited or what!!!  Christina Katz discusses being ethical in The Prosperous Writer this week, and I’ve been giving ethics a lot of thought lately!  You’ve got to love it when that happens!

Last week, a friend told me about an ethical dilemma that had arisen at her work.  She was in her own ethical dilemma over how to handle someone else’s unethical behavior. Behavior that impacted her life and her ability to do her job.  She felt it necessary she do something.  She devised a plan.  It didn’t quite work out the way she’d hoped.  It can be hard to handle it when someone else’s lack of ethics appears to get rewarded and your attempt to do the ethical thing about it gets “punished”.

I know someone who has been downloading movies that by my definition are “pirated”.  I’ve expressed my discomfort with this explaining that “stealing is stealing” and there’s no splitting hairs.  Just because it’s “interesting” technology doesn’t make it right.  As a writer, I make most of my money from royalties, so I have a particularly strong aversion to copyright infringement.  I see the person’s behavior as unethical, and if I kept quiet then I would feel like I was betraying my own ethics.

This week I became immersed in a discussion about reviews.  Someone asked me why I don’t charge for the reviews I write.  My response was simple “It’s unethical.”  The person asking didn’t understand this at all, so I further explained.  I don’t charge for reviews because even if getting paid didn’t create a bias, it gives the appearance of a bias and has the potential to create expectations on the part of the author/publisher.  The person pointed out that my time and effort is valuable.  I couldn’t argue with that point.  Still, I refuse to entertain that as a reason to charge for reviews.  When someone requests a review, they provide a free book (that’s payment in and of itself to a booklover like me.) and I provide a link to the book on my Amazon Associates Account which means if someone clicks through my review to buy the book, I make a small percentage on the sale.  For reviews, that’s enough to satisfy me.  Besides writing reviews helps out fellow authors and reminds people that I’m an author, so it’s all good.

Most of the time, we don’t really think about our ethics.  We just live them.  Last Fall a relatively new friend pointed out that I was too ethical to live with myself if I took the action I proposed in a moment of anger and frustration.  It was just one of those “I ought to just…” moments.  Well, whatever.  I don’t even remember what it was now.  I just remember her response because for some strange reason I was surprised she saw me as that ethical.  I almost felt like saying “No, no, no.  I’m not really.” because I immediately started thinking of every minor transgression I’ve committed in my life.  Considering myself “too ethical” for a behavior felt… oddly too self-righteous.  And, I hate self-righteous.  After I thought about it a minute though, I realized that’s not what she meant.  She was simply pointing out that my sense of ethics and morals is strong, and I don’t break them easily.  I’m not perfect, so, of course, I have moments of being less than ethical.  We all do.  Anyone who says they don’t is lying proving they have moments of being unethical.  We each have to define our own ethics and live them to the best of our ability.

Christina spoke of being “honest, first with yourself, then with others” in order to be ethical.   She’s right, ethical behavior begins with honesty with one’s self and with others.  The more honest one is about what they view as right and wrong, the easier it is for one to embrace right and wrong in life and live according to those ethics.  When one lives up to one’s ethics, one is more confident and secure.  I believe that honesty includes avoiding becoming self-righteous or so rigid one can’t see beyond ethical behavior to humanity.  We’ve all known someone who we saw as ethical but who also was so rigid they couldn’t give an inch to find compassion.  We’ve all known someone who was so self-righteous they spent all their time judging other people’s lack of ethics.  I don’t find either behavior particularly ethical, but I’m sure if you asked these people if they were ethical, they would say absolutely.

Christina also said “…what is socially convenient is not always ethical.”  Man, now, there’s a truth and a half.  It’s often more convenient to keep your mouth shut when someone says something derrogative to or about someone else.  It’s often more convenient to just let someone rail against someone else even going to the point of using words to harm rather than to encourage civil discourse.  It’s often more convenient to let people get away with misrepresenting the facts or a situation than it is to call them on it and risk a fight.  It’s often more convenient when a friend tells you something and you hear a dozen things that trigger alarms in your head to ignore the alarms rather than risk the friendship by sharing an observation, insight, or experience that might actually help.

Sometimes what feels good isn’t ethical, but being unethical almost always feels bad either in the moment or later.  If you feel bad saying or doing something, it’s time to stop and examine why.  If something feels good in the moment but not when you find yourself alone with your thoughts, you’ve likely violated your ethics.  Find a way to fix the violation if possible.  This can mean an apology, taking action to correct a mistake, or simply vowing to do better next time depending on the situation.  Once you find your way back to your ethics after a violation, you’ll find your life balance again.

This is all true in writing as well.  As a writer who tackles social issues, there are times when I find myself holding back because I don’t want to push people away or make people angry with me.  This is unethical because I’m not being true to myself or my work  Those times usually don’t last very long, but when they do I always have to remind myself how important it is to be true to myself and my ethical standards.  As part of my ethics as a writer, I believe it’s important to state what I have to say with honesty and integrity at all times.  I also believe it’s important to create the best possible work I can create.  While I have the right to say whatever I want to say, I also believe that what comes along with that right is the responsibility for the impact of my words.  As a part of that, I always remind myself that ”Words have the power to change the world, so use them wisely.”

To me, ethics are never an option nor should they be so rigid we are unable to learn from life.  Growth comes from holding firm to our ethics while allowing ourselves the room to feel compassion, understanding, and love for others.  We also must be flexible enough to recognize when the changes in standards of business aren’t unethical but are growth.  Sometimes this is difficult because we confuse ethics with the idea that something should continue just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Ethics provide us tools to interact in this world within boundaries that allow us to disagree with civility, agree without self-righteousness, and eventually find common ground.  We move forward when we know, understand, and respect our ethical boundaries.  Our ethics provide us a place to return to find our true selves and to live the lives we want to live.  When we live up to our ethics, we are more balanced individuals and writers alike.

So shall we embrace our ethics together?

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