In my new role as a part time chaplain I have been challenged to consider how I make ethical decisions. On one level it is automatic, a quick risk management process I hardly even think about… till it all goes wrong! Sadly, when that happens it is all too easy to justify the decision I have made, or blame somebody or something else to protect myself. Is that what Military ethics is all about? NO! But all too often that is what it looks like from outside. Against that background, how do I make ethical decisions? What steps do I take to make sure that I am doing the right thing? After reading a range of options I have come up with the following:
Recognise the potential problem or issue! The hard decisions are not just about right and wrong but also about competing values, things that might be legally justifiable but morally wrong. If you don’t feel right about it, or you sense that others think it is risky, subject it to further analysis.
Explore those tensions! Are my own emotions getting in the way of thinking clearly? Am I allowing others to convince me to “do it” without really understanding all the implications? Am I being rushed into making a decision that I might regret later? Who are the stakeholders who will lose or gain from this decision?
Find the facts! How did we get to this point? Separate the facts from the beliefs, desires, theories and opinions. What official guidance is available from DI’s, SI’s, codes of conduct? Have I dealt with anything like this in the past? Do I have the authority to make a decision about this? What are the rights and responsibilities of those involved?
Listen to others! Who can help me make an objective decision about this? Am I being blinded by my own emotions or history? What assumptions am I making? Talk it through, listen to both intuition and logical analysis, in order to come up with a list of your options.
Evaluate the options! Seek to identify the consequences and potential risks of each option. Is there one option that is obviously the best choice? What other info do I need to make a decision? Will the best option stand up to the 60 minutes test?
Carefully implement! The right decision done the wrong way or done at the wrong time can be just as big a disaster as the wrong decision. Refuse to be rushed, make sure that you have documented all these steps and mitigated any potential risks.
Take time to reflect! How did it turn out? Were there any surprises or unforseen consequences? Who else can give me objective feedback to this process? Would I do it differently next time? Has new information come available that might change my approach?
OK, maybe that is too complicated, I’m still working on it, but to REFLECT on a process like this does help! As a chaplain, I am also happy to go back to what the Bible says, and I can identify with the prophet Micah who puts it like this:
But he has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously. (Micah 6:8 The Message)
Chaplain Ian S Whitley