Situational Ethics

SITUATIONAL ETHICS (n.) — A system of ethics that evaluates acts in light of their situational context rather than by the application of moral absolutes.

AT THE RISK of sounding preachy, the biggest challenge, I believe, to our social institutions, our daily human interactions, indeed our “national soul” is what I call “Jell-O Ethics”  – our squishiness (ambiguity, evasiveness) about what is right and what is wrong. Morality, you see, isn’t so always or moral anymore. What was once “good” or “bad” behavior isn’t so absolute. Rather, the correctness of what one does or fails to do depends on the final outcome (consequences) of our deeds or misdeeds. As long as we “win,” how we play the game of business, politics, daily living doesn’t matter. Truth is only a perception, influenced by our self-focused point of view, by a moral (amoral) compass with no needle. For a lot of folks, integrity and correctness are opaque, never clear; heavily sugared with platitudes, slogans, but squiggly still, like lime-flavored Jell-O.

YOU SEE EXAMPLES of once bad behavior in “peaceful protests,” greedy boardrooms, reality TV, college campuses, congressional podiums, and yes, “professional” real estate offices. It’s an epidemic that’s potentially destructive in my historically-backed opinion. Gibbon’s classic about ancient Rome warned of moral erosion from within. Nikita Khrushchev predicted that America’s softness would bury us. There are websites encouraging fully-employable, well-educated middle classers to quit paying their mortgage and hand “underwater” assets back to the bank. No equity? No guilt or responsibility, just walk away! How many “tax resolution” outfits pollute the airwaves, telling deadbeat taxpayers how to avoid garnishment, intimidation, and outrageous penalties from the heavy-handed IRS?  There are real estate examples, of course, brokers, agents, lenders fudging prices or employment data, shopping other agents’ offers… and my pet peeve, not paying legitimate leasing or referral fees.  “They don’t need the money,” is often the rationale for grand larceny.

WHEN DID SUCCESS and happiness become inalienable rights instead of unfettered opportunity? When did avarice, envy, sloth become capital virtues instead of sins? We’re quick to fix blame for our misfortune, lack of ethical backbone, boorish manners and behaviors on anyone other than ourselves – on one political party or the other, on the next generation of coddled brats, on ethnic inferiority, on Madonna or Kim, the Internet, video games, Mesothelioma, or the “richest one-percent.” Such culprits, I feel, are mere manifestations, not the genesis of this new strain of situational virus. Walt Kelly said it five decades ago in his comic book about Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Maybe there’s a iPhone app to thicken up this jiggly Jell-O. If not, it has to be Trump’s or Biden’s fault.

“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”  ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.” ~ Josiah Charles Stamp

Written by Marty Rueter