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5 Ethical Dilemmas | Psychology Today Canada


Zeevveez, Flickr, CC 2.0

Source: Zeevveez, Flickr, CC 2.0

For each of these dilemmas, I make the best pro and con case I can. The hope is that it will help you decide what’s right for you, not just in these situations, but more broadly.

The dilemma: You’re creating a dating profile and are afraid that your age will turn off prospective dates. So you’re thinking of posting photos of you when you were five years younger.

Pro: You want to give people a chance to judge you on more than your wrinkles.

Con: You don’t want to start a relationship with a deception. Besides the ethical issue, as soon as you get together, even on Zoom, the person will see that you’re older the the posted pictures. So, from the get-go, you’ll appear deceptive.

The dilemma: You’re a salesperson or its nonprofit analogue: fundraiser. Your boss gives you a script to use in pitching, which exaggerates the positives and downplays the negatives of your product or charity. Do you use the pitch?

Pro: Most customers realize that salespeople exaggerate positives and downplay negatives. It’s on the customer to unearth more fair-minded information and perhaps explore other buying options. As long as the product or nonprofit is reasonably good, you need to make your number, which benefits your career and your family, and that’s worth your using the pitch that your boss wants you to use.

Con: If such tactics are required to close sufficient sales, you have an obligation to let your boss know your concern. If the boss won’t allow you to be more candid, it’s time to look for another job. There are sufficient employers that won’t require such tactics.

The dilemma: A well-connected coworker accuses you as being “part of the problem” because your signature line says “Preferred pronouns: she/her” rather than the gender-neutral “ze/zir.” You don’t want to be de-genderized. Plus, you believe that ze/zir is polarizing, turning off many women and men—It risks being seen as cheap virtue-signaling and political correctness run amok.

Pro: You don’t want to be railroaded into doing something you think is wrong for fear of being labeled. Censoring your views would contribute to the squashing of dissent that seems to be expanding these days, the so-called Cancel Culture. And we all know the dangers of censorship: from Nazi Germany’s book burning and mass murder to Stalin’s arresting and killing millions of dissenters to McCarthyism’s cowing of Communists.

Con: Given that the accuser is well-connected, not changing your signature line is risky—If your coworker accuses you of sexism and sexual binarism, even if untrue, your career and even your family could be at-risk, and for what? Changing it would have trivial if any impact on sexism or binarism. So in this case, greater good accrues from changing your signature.

The dilemma: You and your partner agree to be monogamous but you have an affair. Do you disclose?

Pro: A relationship’s foundation is trust. Also, disclosing may encourage the two of you to have conversations that could improve the relationship. Plus, disclosure increases the chances of the affair ending, which would eliminate the risk of the affair causing disease or pregnancy, and of your irrationally deciding to end your primary relationship. After the affair’s infatuation stage passes and you’re again clear-eyed, you could realize you made a mistake but your partner might not take you back.

Con: For millennia, affairs have been common, even when the primary relationship is good. There’s no black-and-white here: Each person must assess an affair’s benefits versus risks.

The dilemma: You’ve just been diagnosed with a fatal but not communicable disease. You’re asymptomatic but will probably develop symptoms in a few months and die within a year. Do you tell your spouse now?

Pro: You should tell because your spouse deserves to know, both so s/he can support you and for his/her own planning.

Con: Disclosing would give your partner months of worry that s/he can do little to assuage. Also, if you disclose, your pleasant interactions will be tainted by your partner knowing that you’ll soon develop symptoms and die.

The takeaway

There often aren’t clear rights and wrongs, only tradeoffs, whether in public policy or in personal dilemmas. So, as you face ethical decisions, it may be wise to list the pragmatic and idealistic pros and cons before deciding. Even so, you may still sometimes make a poor decision, but that approach should increase the percentage of decisions that you feel good about.

I read this aloud on YouTube

Here is another set of ethical dilemmas.

Here are thoughts on becoming more ethical.



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