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From Serving Iowa Elders for Over 20 Years

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Some thoughts on Ethics.

It seems appropriate that my first blog entry (Mary Alice) should be about ethics. Long ago I began my academic education in the philosophy department, with a particular foci on logic and ethics. Applying ethical principles has been a important value in my life. Now as a licensed social worker, I take several hours of continuing education in ethics biannually.

People don’t discuss ethics as much as they get outraged at the unethical. Unethical behavior makes headlines. We read accusations of dreadful conflicts of interest among financiers and bankers and politicians. There is nearly universal condemnation for being unethical. Yet, there is very little discussion of being ethical. This discussion is how I want to start my blogging adventure.

Merriam-Webster defines ethics as: “Rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad.”

One would think that being ethical is pretty easy. People assume they know what is the “right” thing to do. We learn right from wrong as children. We learn The Golden Rule. We are taught, “Don’t poke your sister with a stick.” How hard can it be to continue to do “right” and avoid doing “wrong?” Hopefully, we adults have all stopped poking people with sticks.

The challenges for ethical behavior arise when life presents choices which are not so simple. “To poke or not to poke” becomes “which poke is less painful?” There are times when there are no “good” choices at all. Even more complications arise when people disagree on what is really good, sort of good, a little good, not very good, not too bad, etc. Is “sort of bad” better than “not too good?” What do we choose when your good is bad for me? When we start to look closely at real life situations, the right thing isn’t always so obvious.

Thanks to all the philosophers and ethicists over the centuries, we have some guidance on how to make the complicated choices. Like the dictionary says, ethics involves “rules” of behavior. Even in complicated situations, the Great thinkers guide us with rules and their reasonings about those rules. Some are aimed at humanity in general and some are developed for specific areas of human interaction.

As licensed social workers we are guided by the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. This includes the principles that we profess as social workers and which underlie our approach to human interactions. As care managers, we have an overlapping Code of Ethics developed by The National Association of Geriatric Care Managers. You can read these in their entirely at http://www.socialworkers.org and http://www.caremanager.org.

These codes of ethics both include many obvious “rules,” like respect people, keep confidentiality, make good records, know our limitations, etc. However, there are a few “rules” that pose some interesting challenges for our style of practice. These will be the subject of my next few blog entries. Stay tuned.