Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Does Ethics Mean to Sarah Palin?

The Alaska Governor's office released a statement from Sarah Palin where she announced,
I am gratified that this settlement explicitly recognizes and establishes ...  that I broke no laws or ethics rules.
This is not the first time Sarah has denied breaking ethics laws. In the matter of Troopergate, the Branchflower report made it abundantly clear that Sarah overstepped her bounds in pushing to get her former brother-in-law removed from his job as a State Trooper. Yet Sarah declared that she had been exonerated of any wrongdoing.


Since then, many respectable publications have raised serious questions about Sarah's ethics, covering not only Travel-gate and Troopergate but a multitude of other simmering scandals as well.

I started looking for a good definition of ethics and ran across an article published by The Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University titled, "What is Ethics?"  It's an excellent read.  I've excerpted some highlights below.

Feelings Being ethical is clearly not a matter of following one's feelings. A person following his or her feelings may recoil from doing what is right. In fact, feelings frequently deviate from what is ethical.
Religion Nor should one identify ethics with religion. Ethics applies as much to the behavior of the atheist as to that of the saint. Ethics cannot be confined to religion nor is it the same as religion.
Law Being ethical is also not the same as following the law. Laws, like feelings, can deviate from what is ethical (example-Apartheid).
Society Being ethical is not the same as doing "whatever society accepts."  An entire society can become ethically corrupt (example-Nazi Germany).
So, what is ethics? First, ethics refers to well based standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues.

Secondly, ethics refers to the study and development of one's ethical standards. [...] So it is necessary to constantly examine one's standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded.

When Sarah Palin excused travel expenses for her family by saying that her job should not keep her away from her children, she was operating on feelings.  It feels good for me to take my kids along with me, so I'm going to do it.

When Sarah Palin excused her actions in Troopergate and more recently, Per Diem-gate, she insisted she had done no wrong because she had not broken a law.

I'm confident that Sarah would say her ethics are derived from her religious faith, but we have all seen repeated instances of hypocrisy here.  Does Sarah lie?  Yes.  Does she bear false witness?  Yes, on several occasions I can think of.  Does she envy the glamorous and lust after the things that belong to that lifestyle?  I think so.  Has she committed adultery?  There are a few people in Wasilla who are sure of it.  Does taking tax-free per diem money and family travel re-imbursements sound a little like stealing from the State?  It does to me.

And while it may be acceptable in Wasilla society to fake a pregnancy, that doesn't make it or any of the contortions and lies that necessarily follow ethical.

fair use claimed

Being ethical requires that
  • we pursue a continuous study, and self-study, of what constitutes good ethics
  • we make sure our decisions do not serve to take away anyone else's rights
  • we uphold our personal, professional and societal obligations regardless of whether they are written into any law or rule
  • we do no harm but instead improve life for our neighborhood, community and environment
  • we treat others as we wish to be treated, and
  • we make sure our actions and deeds are worth repeating by others
Where I work, part of being ethical is shining a light on apparent ethics violations so they can be examined and corrected if necessary.  Doing nothing can sometimes do harm.
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