It is no secret that we live in an increasingly busy world. As we work and pursue our personal interests, it is important to have ethics and critical values guide our actions, lest we lose focus on what is important. In all my daily undertaking, I am normally guided by one simple values and ethics statement: In my pursuant of self-interests, I should endeavor to do right by other people, developing their capacity to become a better version of themselves. This statement has three crucial parts that are worth noting. Firstly, as is the case with everything else, I have my needs, wants and aspirations as a human being. Therefore, I will seek to maximize them in a way that grants me utility. However, while doing so, I must remain sensitive of other people's needs as well, because I live in a society that has other people who have the right to pursue their interests just as much as I do (Synowiec, 2016). Thirdly, there are those with lesser means than myself, but whose dreams are just as valid as mine. To such people, I should render a helping hand in a way that helps them realize their dreams and potential. These ethical values and perspectives are based on my understanding of life as well as the concept of love. I believe that life should be lived in a matter that enhances my happiness as well as that of other people. While living, it is important to show love, not only to myself, but also to other people as well. As a result, pursuing my dreams while also according others the opportunity to do so (even rendering a helping hand, if and when necessary), is the right philosophy to approach life. It is for this reason that my values and ethics statement is as described above, taking great care to advance my wellbeing while being sensitive to the affairs of others.
The values that I hold in high esteem are the culmination of the life I have lived in the past. They are the sum total of what I was taught as a child as well as what I have learnt over the course of time. As a child, my parents insisted that ours was a competitive world, thus I had to work hard to find a place in it. However, they also taught me the importance of respecting the wishes of other people, because they too were on a journey to better their lives. Through my education, I came to appreciate the practicality of these teachings. As I grew up, I realized the importance of working hard to succeed while at the same time not being an obstacle to other people in their quest to realize their dreams. I also learnt that some people were not as fortunate as I was, yet they were just as talented as I was; if not more. As a result, I learnt that with a little help, they could be able to realize their potential. With time, I came to appreciate the importance of helping such individuals. I can say that these ethics and values have helped me realize a life full of love - loving myself as well as other people. Most importantly, I have known that love is to be received and shared, because giving is just as fulfilling as receiving. It is important to remind that in this case, love is to be defined as a genuine care and concern for the wellbeing of myself as well as others.
Looking at the values described above, I can say that utilitarianism is the most fitting ethical perspective. At its core, utilitarianism requires that in any given setting, decisions made are for the greater good, benefitting all that are concerned. I find that my values and practices are aligned with this ethical framework. At all times, I seek to make decisions that benefit not only myself but others as well. In utilitarianism, there is no pretense that our needs do not matter. Rather, the objective is that as we pursue out interests, we must see to it that the decisions we make benefit the majority of people while also inflicting minimal harm to the least number of people. As I live, I seek to maximize my interests as I pursue my life goals. However, that is not the only thing I am concerned about. I am careful that my decisions do not harm other people.
As I grew up and acquired a better understanding, I came to understand that there are no perfectly ethical choices, because the truth is that the world is so fragmented that decisions made and actions taken will never benefit every single person involved. For example, clothes made out of cotton may be harmful to the environment, because cotton requires large volumes of water to grow. Water is scarce commodity and should be used sparingly; hence cotton clothes may not be eco-friendly. On the other hand, the textile industry employs millions of people, providing them with incomes to afford basic needs, education and healthcare - this is especially true in emerging and developing economies. Evaluating this dilemma, I decided that it was better to wear cotton clothing than abandon it altogether, because it was the better option that ensured gains to the majority. In this case, I cared not just about my desire for cotton clothing but also the livelihoods of those that make them. As would be dictated my utilitarianism, there are no perfect decisions, just better and more inclusive ones (Gandjour, 2007).
On a number of occasions, I have donated money and volunteered my time for worthy causes, because this is actually in line with the ethics of utilitarianism that I believe in. Earlier, I noted that while some may not be as fortunate as I am, they are nevertheless very skilled and talented. Therefore, donating for good causes and volunteering ensures that I do as much good as I can, to as many people as possible, subject to my resources. In the long-run, such people will become accomplished, creating value for themselves and others as well. I have found utilitarianism to be a useful and less-conflicting ethical framework to apply in real life, because it is in line with many ethical values, practices and perspectives. I understand that the world is a complex place where I cannot afford to see things as being either black or while. I also do not want to do things because of a supposed duty that has been imposed upon me. However, I do strongly believe that any action that benefits the greatest number of people in a given setting can be deemed as good and one that is worthy of celebration.
Perhaps my love and admiration of utilitarianism has to do with the way it was introduced to me as a child. When I was seven years old, my mother got a job with a multinational manufacturing conglomerate. The pay was good and she was very excited about it. She promised to take me to a better school. There was also the allure of several paid vacations in any given year. I was extremely excited about the development. However, my joy was short lived. Six months into the job, my mother learnt that the company was emitting untreated industrial waste into a nearby water reservoir. She raised the issue with the management, noting the danger that such waste posed to the local community. She tabled evidence that toxic substances were seeping into the local water system and it was only a matter of time before serious health issues emerged. The management did nothing. This alarmed my mother. As months went by, she raised the issue once again, this time expecting nothing less of a solution. To her dismay, she was warned that her job was no longer guaranteed if she kept on pressing for solutions. Her nightmare came when she was finally fired unceremoniously. Things went wrong quickly after that because my father was temporarily without a job at the time. I asked my mother if she was sorry about what she did, upon which she told me: "It was a well-paying job and I am sorry that I will not be able to take you to a better school. However, I could not stand and watch tens of thousands being poisoned to their death." This was a powerful lesson on making decisions that are for the greater good, even when she stood to be disadvantaged. My mother's resignation triggered a chain reaction that saw the cover-up exposed just in time before it was too late.
Ethical choices have consequences. Sometimes one could lose valuable opportunities, just like my mother did. However, what is good for the majority is the right thing, even if it may disadvantage some people. My mother taught me the importance of caring for the greater good. In many of instances, decisions may not be as costly as her case proved. So far, I have not had to pay such a high price myself. However, should such a time come, I would gladly do as she did, because this is in line with ensuring that others do not lose so that I win. My understanding of utilitarianism has deepened with time. For example, the concept of greater good is not just theoretical to me as it was in the past. It is actually very practical - the example of my mother enhanced this practicality. It is possible that the setting that I grew up set the stage for the adoption of utilitarianism as my preferred ethical framework. However, it is also true that as I grew older and got an education, I was able to develop reasons of my own; adding to what my parents taught me. I am better in my application of ethics today, because I am able to rationalize my perspectives. Utilitarianism is important because it gives me the ability to adapt to a changing world where perspectives on right and wrong are always changing. The overall theme will remain the same as it has always been: decisions and actions should seek to bring about the greatest good to the highest amount of people.
Gandjour, A. (2007). Is it rational to pursue utilitarianism? Ethical Perspectives: Journal of the European Ethics Network, 14(2), 139-158.
Synowiec, J. (2016). Ethics for everyday heroes - from Utilitarianism to Effective Altruism. Ethics & Bioethics, 6(3/4), 147-156.
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