Reflections 2012

Published: December 29, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Apology and Forgiveness, Rights vs. Responsibilities, Television and Responsibility, Confirmation Bias, Justice vs. Compassion, Freedom vs. Responsibility, Ethics vs. Morality, Us vs. Them — those were just some of the issues discussed on this site over the last year.

Some of the questions raised: The Best Man?, Do Facts Matter?, Is Honesty the Best Policy?, Good for the Soul?, Is Perception Reality?, Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?, Did LanceReally Cheat?

People examined: Donald Trump, John Roberts, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Welch, Trayvon Martin, Bill Maher, Mike Wallace, Michael Bloomberg, Clint Eastwood, Jamie Dimon, and Washington and Lincoln – two presidents that I continue to re-read and study their wisdom.

And politics… a LOT of politics, which drew questions from several readers as to why a web site devoted to ethics should discuss politics.

2012 was very much a political year taken up by debates, political ads, pundits, Super PACs, polls, more pundits… well, you get the idea.

The purpose of this site has always been to raise the awareness of ethics concerning a variety of contemporary issues. Civic virtue and citizenship is about demonstrating “our obligations to contribute to the overall public good,” ethicist Michael Josephson observes. Civic duties include voting, serving on a jury, reporting crimes, conservation of natural resources. They also include taking the necessary time to study, discuss, think-through and make decisions about issues and individuals that affect us all.

From an ethical standpoint, what was most critical to me in the past year were the facts, or in many cases, lack of facts used and misused by both campaigns.

On September 14 (Do Facts Matter?), I wrote about one example where “a local politician… told me bluntly, ‘people don’t care about facts.’ This same politician went on to imply that the flagrant, partisan ravings by people like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are just ‘business as usual.’ Without offering a shred of documented proof, Reid stood on the floor of the Senate and declared that a ‘source’ had told him that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for the last ten years. In broadcast follow-ups, Reid refused to identify the source.

“When I asked this politician, ‘Would you do that? Look me in the eye and tell me you would do that.’ He held up his hands, shrugged and appeared to suggest… maybe.

“In contrast to Reid,” I said “Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed, without substantive proof, said, ‘It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood,’ and implicated a close aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”

Thankfully, Senator John McCain “went on the floor of the Senate to repudiate his colleague’s claims.”

What continues to trouble me in the political process is the great lack of responsibility, fairness and just plain, common sense.

In October, however, I wrote a three-part series on former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards’s solution to the stranglehold the political parties continue to exert on politics.The Parties vs. The People – How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans is simply the clearest ethical return to reason I have come across. In Heresy, Part III (Oct. 31), I cited an example where a political leader put people before politics.

“CNN host Piers Morgan asked Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie why, one week before a presidential election, he came out so strongly in support of President Obama’s actions regarding the damage in his state [from Hurricane Sandy].

“ ‘This is much more important than any election,’ Christie told Morgan. ‘This is the livelihood of the people in my state… When the president does things that deserve praise, I will give him praise. And when the president does things that deserve scorn, I’ll give him scorn.’

“This is precisely the behavior most Americans want to see from their elected leaders,” I wrote. “They just need to learn how to do it without a national crisis at hand.”

“Democracy requires an openness to diverse opinion and a fostering of vigorous debate,” Edwards writes. “But it also requires that each participant in that debate to use his or her knowledge, experience, and judgment to make decisions for the public – not the partisan – good.”

In letters to both President Obama and Governor Romney, I wrote, “…now is the time to demonstrate, not just the spirit, but the integrity of bipartisanship. I respectfully ask that, in your speeches to Americans in the coming weeks, you sincerely and consistently reach out to the other side for the unity of compromise. At the end of the day, democracy is an act of character.”

While issues will always remain important to people, it is how we deal with those issues that ultimately determine the purpose and course of our nation and its character.

Responsibility, respect, caring, fairness, honesty, integrity, fidelity, civic virtue – these are the values that guide us from where we are to who we want to be.

We can all begin the New Year by considering the decisions we make from an ethical perspective:

Consider the interests of all stakeholders. Think about likely consequences before implementing a final decision. Who will be helped or harmed?

Remember to evaluate decisions in light of facts, not speculation, rumor, opinion or unsupported conclusions. Consider the credibility of the source of the information.

Consider how the decision you’re about to make would look on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. Would your parents or kids be comfortable, proud even, of the decision you make?

Do your best. While there may be a shortage of time or resources, strive for excellence with what you have.

Work to avoid common rationalizations: Everybody does it; If it’s necessary, it’s ethical; If it’s legal, it’s permissible; and I’m just fighting fire with fire!

Considering the tragic shootings in Aurora, Newtown, Minneapolis, as well as a Mall in Oregon, Lincoln’s final words from his second inaugural address are just as ethically relevant as ever.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


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