Decisions of character or social behavior can be somewhat sloppily divided into two different categories. When we make decisions, especially those we deem important, we depend on both parts of our innermost predictors of behavior – morals and ethics. Each has its own characteristics and is put into play for different reasons, but they can also overlap. There is a fine line in some cases that is difficult to discern.
One way to identify the difference between morals and ethics is to use the title of this article. Decisions of character depend more upon our morals. Decisions of social behavior depend largely on ethics. Our morals are the beliefs we carry with us from our earliest behaviors, derived mainly from our families and the people and situations that we begin our lives with. They come from the set of core values instilled in our youth.
This does not mean that our morals are carved in stone and that they will never change. Our morals may have been sadly lacking as teenagers, but with the maturity of young adulthood and middle age, our morals may have improved and allowed us an “upgrade” in character. Decisions we make now are based on a set of core values and a belief system that is much more desirable than the morals that led us during our teenage years, when we were perhaps rebellious, self-interested, or felt badly about ourselves. If our self-esteem was low due to childhood abuse or neglect, it may have been that our morals suffered and we made bad choices. With maturity may come a change or a reversal of moral beliefs and ethical standards that help us lead a more satisfying life.
Using the title of the article again shows how ethical decisions are more a matter of social behavior. Reaching a new level of understanding about what is right and wrong in personal, academic, or work situations requires a set of ethical standards learned through experience. Ethical decisions are made throughout our lives, beginning at a young age. These are not always recognized as ethical decisions, but they are based on what appears to be right or wrong according to what is socially acceptable.
In a business environment, for example, a youthful employee has to make a decision that can have an effect on the entire company. It requires both moral and ethical considerations. He wants to attend the season opener of his hometown’s baseball team. He intends to say he’s sick to get out of work. Morally, the employee knows that telling a lie about why he will be absent from work is bad. Ethically, his considerations should be for the well-being of the company. He understands it is not ethical to avoid work on a day when every employee is needed for a visit from the CEO, but he bags work anyway. The company will suffer because of his moral and ethical decisions, neither of which are correct.
Comparing his behavior a couple of years later when working for another company, he faces a similar dilemma. Friends are in town for a short visit and have traveled a long way to see him. He has been promoted at the new company and is now responsible for other workers. There is a meeting coming up and he must be there to answer questions. He really wants to take the day off and hang out with his friends. A bit of maturity has led him to make more responsible decisions now, and he decides to go to work. He tells his friends he will meet them for dinner at 7 P.M. In this situation, his morals have improved – he now knows how badly he will feel if he lies and says he’s sick. His ethical standards have also improved, as his decisions are now based on what is good for his company instead of only for himself. Morally and ethically, he has come a long way. His set of moral values has improved his decisions of character. His set of ethical principles has boosted his ability to make more prudent ethical decisions.
This is an example of morals and ethics at an elementary level, but there are much more complex issues in life that involve morals and ethics in decisions of character and social behavior. Both can change and improve over time with some self-examination and reflection about decisions that need to be made.