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So Boring, Yet So Important: On Ethics and Cultural Context

Most ethical dilemmas are about truth, loyalty, and fairness, and they often involve money, work, friends, or relatives. In business, you come up against ethical dilemmas all the time. Having a good understanding of ethics can help you find answers to ethical problems.

There are common misconceptions about what ethics means. Some people believe that ethics includes personal feelings about right and wrong. Others think that ethics is based only on religious beliefs. And some think that being ethical simply means obeying the law, where others believe it means doing what society expects.

Do those misconceptions sound familiar? Think about your own understanding of what ethics means. How would you define ethics?

So what is ethics? Your response may have included a statement that ethics is a set of moral principles that helps you tell the difference between right and wrong actions. Ethics is based on values, but it’s also about more than just your own feelings, the dictates of religion, or the law.

Laws play a role in workplace ethics. They require companies to behave ethically in certain situations. For example, in somecountries it may be illegal to consider people’s race or religion when deciding whether to hire them.

But simply obeying the law is not enough to ensure your behavior is ethical. Sometimes the moral thing to do is not covered by law. 

For example, in many countries, a business is not legally required to take its employees’ religious holidays into account. But ensuring that project deadlines don’t conflict with employees’ personal faith is the moral thing to do.

Ethics includes both legal and moral behaviors. For example, it’s illegal, immoral, and unethical to murder someone. Arson too is illegal, immoral, and unethical.

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