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Making ethical decisions

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By Pr Isaiah White

We live in a world full of ethical dilemmas, yet morals are part of our living. If you are facing a difficult choice and asking yourself what you should do, then you are trying to make an ethical decision. It is about how people treat each other, how they build trustworthy organisations, or create just societies. On a personal level, you may need to decide the right thing to do for an ageing parent; at work, you may be faced with conflicts where you are tempted to put your interests ahead of your clients’; while as a citizen, you often have to vote on initiatives that impact the rights of others. It is, therefore, important that we look at how people come to ethical decisions.

What is an ethical decision?

To me, an ethical decision is when you determine to do or be something based on the moral campus. Ethical decisions influence our social lifestyle and professional life as well. Life is a continuous decision-making process. We are faced with decisions most of the time and what matters is whether the decisions we have made are ethical and the criteria used to come up with them. 

Adam and Eve

In Genesis, God created man and placed humanity in the Garden of Eden where the instructions were clear as far as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are concerned. They were not supposed to eat the forbidden fruit. The consequence of violating that rule was very clear – death. Unfortunately in Genesis 3, we see the violation of the clear warning that God had given to the first couple. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Eve used her eyes to make the decision. Her eyes did not communicate to her what was ‘right’, but what was ‘good’. From this, we learn the difference between good and right. We must understand the difference between what is good and what is right. Not everything good is right, and not every right thing is always good.

This is how Eve made her decision, which resulted into sin and degradation, and eventually ruined their relationship with God. Sometimes we consider pleasure and our selfish desires and forget reality. Eve observed that the forbidden fruit was good for food, but did not consider whether it was right or even good for life. This is how most of us make our ethical decisions. We look at how good, pleasant and desirable things are instead of questioning how right they are.

Adam and Eve hide away from God (Illustration/Vince Gerhardy)

Gut feeling

Adam and Eve followed their gut feeling. The emotional feeling problem is when we decide what is ethically right based on how it feels; some people may justify: “It is right because it feels right.” In a society obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure as our own, some people will inevitably believe their emotions should rule their behaviour. We are, indeed, emotional beings but those emotions should not participate in both our moral (right and wrong) and ethical (what ought to be) matters.

Subjecting our determination of what is right or wrong to emotions is dangerous to this world. The danger in this is that while evil and good are organically absolute, the feelings of humanity are relative. This is to say that if it feels good and gives satisfaction for someone to hurt and kill others, then that makes the killing right and ethical as well. I doubt any right-thinking person would agree to this.

Seek God’s help

Making good ethical decisions requires not just training, but also being born-again and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to seek the wisdom and power of God to help us tell the difference between right and wrong and what ought to be ethical.

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