That life is nothing if not a journey is an old metaphor – we’re all familiar with the idea of us as travellers, navigating their existence through humanity. Along the way, we encounter forks in the road where we have to make decisions… left or right? A house or a flat? This car or that car? And of course the resulting consequences of our decisions… several movies have explored this concept, including Sliding Doors and The Butterfly Effect to name but two.
What happens, however, when the fork in the road isn’t simply a choice between two possibilities, but rather a choice of two or more moral dilemmas? Is there always a clear “right” and “wrong”?
As a travel writer, I have often faced this when publicising a town, scenic point, pristine beach, mountain or valley which appears otherwise “undiscovered” by mass tourism. Do I publicise it in my next book, knowing that it would satisfy my readers’ thirst for a new destination, bring economic benefits to the local area, and garner attention for me as a traveller? Or do I hope that it stays hidden – knowing the traffic, waste and social stresses that such attention would burden a local community with… a community who didn’t necessarily invite the attention of the world’s travellers? Would the place inevitably be “discovered” anyway, so it’s just a question of whether the “discoverer” is me or the next travel writer?
Like so many ethical decisions, I’m still not sure what the answer to this dilemma is, and I suspect that it lies somewhere between the three options I laid out above. I have developed a regime of “write, publicise, but tread carefully”… continue monitoring, and constantly assess whether my action is causing more harm than good, and modify my engagement where required. Surely, this is the most human approach.
In business, as in life, we must always continue to self-assess our ethical standing. It’s not enough to simply take a decision and stand by it – we need to know who we are affecting, and how we are affecting them, even as time goes by. This is perhaps the most crucial argument for open and clear communication between all stakeholders in an enterprise.
As we hurtle into the future, and as the lines between technology and humanity continue to be blurred, we are constantly challenged with ethical decisions. The key, then, is surely to take these ethical decisions but continue to self-assess, and not be afraid or too proud to alter or modify our course if it appears that we could do better.
Humanity, as with ethics, is rarely a clear-cut business… but navigating that, and checking on our fellow passengers as we go along, is our duty as businesses, users of technology, and as humans.
S4 Digital has a clear position in this regard, stating that “honesty, fairness, and respect should not be sacrificed in pursuit of profits” in its code of conduct that is delivered to every new employee.