Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ethical Questions



There are places where we don’t expect high ethical conduct, and are pleasantly surprised to find it. (Example: Does anyone expect insurance companies to be driven by high moral standards? The astonishment of positive encounters with such suggests we don’t.)
Then there are situations where ethics are a must, because trust is the foundation of these alliances. (Example: with physicians, therapists, or teachers. The astonishment of negative encounters suggests we had assumed the very best ethics from them.)


Having had, personally and through friends and family, some positive and negative experiences lately, I got to thinking about ethics and the gap between what we say and what we do. I say “we,” because while I am not guilty of most of the mentioned below, I can’t and won’t exclude myself from the abundance of failures, often explained as “that's how it’s done,” and “this is the real world, darling.”


But it got me wondering, and questioning. No reasoned answers in this post, just questions. I would love yours: the questions and the answers, if you’re so inclined.

These are all examples of things I have come to realize happen all the time.


*Is it all right to play editors against each other in a bidding war for manuscripts?

* Is it all right to look for a job while you still have a job?

*Is it all right to look for an agent while you have an agent?

*Is it all right to look for a spouse/partner while you have a spouse/partner?

*Is it all right to say publicly you are an in-network provider but say privately you will only treat privately “on the side,” for much more $$?

*Is it all right to take a friend’s confidential confessional life story and publish it without their consent?

*Is it all right to ghost-write and for $$ let the payer put his name on it?

* Is it all right to promote a friend’s product/book while having a less than high opinion of it?

While most are legal, I’m not one to see any as truly ethical.  What do you think?



21 comments:

  1. These are interesting examples. Except for the infidelity in marriage example the others all seem to be business decisions, and generally business is seen as having a different set of ethics than in one's personal life. For example, it's easier to find another job if you're already employed. This is not something I see as unethical. The ghost writer example is interesting too, since ghost writer implies that there's a professional assisting behind the scenes in writing the story. This can be a cooperative, teamwork effort between author and ghostwriter, and definitely not the same as stealing someone's writing then putting your name on it. I guess this is why there are entire college courses devoted to the subject of business ethics.

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    1. Excellent observations, Karen. Business ethics have long separated themselves from the rest of what we instinctively feel to be not-quite-right. I'm personally uneasy about this separation, which may explain why I'm no business mogul...

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  2. A few of these are acceptable, in my opinion. Agents try to do the first one in an auction. I have attempted to job hunt while still employed (after doing the opposite and then being unemployed for four months afterwards). Ghostwriting is acceptable although I wouldn't do it myself.

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    1. As Karen pointed out, most are accepted practices in business and taught in business schools under the notion of "bottom line." Some social philosophies find every example above to be acceptable. I find every one of these to be worthy of being "ponderable" at the very least, and all leave me with an un-easy feeling.

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  3. I think I would feel okay about promoting a friend's book since my opinion isn't the only one that matters and others may very well love it. Now, if it were something I wholly disagreed with I might reconsider attaching my name to a philosophy or idea that I can't support.

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    1. I like to promote friends, period. There's always something valid and true, which is also positive, that I could say. I tell myself that I draw the line on stating positives I don't really mean, and have never done that. But is this rationalization? It's just another of these un-easy things I am pondering.

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  4. Interesting questions, Mirka. To me the marriage relationship is very different from the job and agent situations. You make promises to be faithful to your spouse until death. No such promises are made with the job or the agent, so I don't see those situations as unethical. It *would* be unethical to use job time or job resources to hunt for a different job, imo. The insurance and pubbing a friend's story are unethical, imo. I'm uneasy with ghost writing and would not do it myself. I agree with what you said in your comment about promoting a friend's work. The book auction is no different to me than any other auction, but I admit I don't know how they're conducted, so maybe there's some aspect to them that makes them unethical and I just don't know about it.

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    1. So worthwhile to have this open forum to think about such with you. I must see the line between "business" and the rest of our conduct as blurry, and blurring our sensibilities in many ways.

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  5. I'm not comfortable with any of them. I think I'm a pretty honest person and these feel like lies to me, which makes me uncomfortable. I'm quick to feel guilt though and I know that plays a part in my decisions.

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    1. You and me, both. The fact is that there's an aspect of keeping it confidential and "hush-hush" in every instance above suggests that something is not "quite" on the up 'n up. There's a place for discretion, but I wonder where the line is.

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  6. So, are you saying that if someone has a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant and isn't making enough to support their family, that to be ethical, they can't look for a better job until they first resign from that job and go income-less while they look for the new job? And if they're currently jobless their likelihood of finding a better job is greatly reduced, because potential employees will view their resignation as 'quitting.' I just don't see your rationale about why looking for another job is unethical. Can you please enlighten me?

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    1. To my thinking, anything that can be done openly "in the light of day" is not tainted with a tinge of questionable ethics. If I had a minimum wage (or low paying) job it would not be a hidden fact that I am looking for something better. It's a given, and a good employer may even give me tips and encourage me as I search if they can't do better by me.If such employers are under the illusion their jobs are a final station for anyone, they have greater problems than this post touches upon.
      Once something becomes covert, while it may be legal and even accepted, some self-doubt and questioning of one's choices is healthy.
      It's one of the oddities of our world that employers value the one already well-employed when they are knocking at their door. Just like the banks will lend to those who already have money, and shoe stores will not let a barefoot person in. I'm just wondering if we don't have it backwards.

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  7. *Is it all right to look for a spouse/partner while you have a spouse/partner?...That one especially made me cringe. I guess I'm doing okay, because I haven't done those. I am looking for an agent because I don't have an agent. And, although, I've decided not to publish other books with my current small press, I will finish my series with them. I do believe that honesty and ethics are important.

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    1. It's interesting how most delineate the business from the personal, and the question posted about spousal betrayal/covert machinations gets the cringes. Y'all got me thinking hard about the way we frame things and explain how breaking the golden rule is all right or not, because all the questions (save, possibly, the last one) involve doing what you'd hope wouldn't be done to you. We are curious beings.

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  8. Most of these leave a bad taste in my mouth, but like others have said, the one about looking for a job while employed doesn't seem to fit with the rest. Looking doesn't necessarily mean keeping it a secret. There are so many reasons for people to job hunt while employed. As for book promotion, I like to support other authors. If I really don't like a book (a rare thing!) I'll either skip reviewing it or just write an average review pointing out any problems, but balancing them out with compliments, even if it only has a pretty cover.

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    1. I like your thinking. Maybe the job question does have a different track, depending.

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  9. This made me think of this quote: "Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony." (Gandhi) Being nice and being ethical don't always go hand-in-hand.

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    1. That's a good point about ethics and social graces, Jan.

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  10. At this point I'm chiming in because of feedback I got to this post in personal correspondence, (not on the blog comments section) from not one, but three friends. The consensus: there IS a difference between business ethics and personal ethics. I'm uneasy, and unconvinced in the moral sense. But I accept this as the norm under which we operate. For example, if employers think you are a far better potential employee because you are still employed when reaching out, this is a pity, (and often a fallacy) but we can't change this pervasive notion, and must take care of ourselves and our loved ones as best we can.

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  11. Hi Mirka, I am doing ghostwriting for a few clients and have to say I'm not uncomfortable with it at all!

    My clients have interesting or personal stories to tell but they aren't writers, so they hire me to get their stories out. I think it's great. Even when in the end my name isn't on the books, that's fine. It's their ideas and personal stories anyway. We both enter the contract agreeing to these terms and I intend to honour them. (If there are other terms I don't agree with, I simply politely decline taking up that project. That's all.) This is something I made my mind up about when I began freelance writing -- if I'm working for clients, their vision and wishes for their projects must outweigh my personal desire for name/recognition. In return for my time and services, they pay a professional fee that I'm comfortable with.

    And I've also made up my mind that if, if their books turn out selling great, I'll sincerely be delighted for them, too. (Might be kicking myself a bit for not getting more $$ or name at first, but I know I will choose to be happy for them in the end.) :)

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    1. I know you as a writer of great taste and integrity. Your clients are lucky, Claudine.

      There is a lot more ghost-writing out there than most realize. I had a post about this when I realized how pervasive it is.
      http://mirkabreen.blogspot.com/2014/04/how-do-you-like-your-ghosts.html

      To me, it make a world of difference when the writer is acknowledged so we know it so-and-so's story as told to/by ---Writer. Some celebrities and politicians have taken that route, which leaves no uncomfortable residue.
      {Ghost-writing is different from heavy editing for hire. Editors are always invisible. They don't write, only make suggestions (some very specific) how to rewrite a passage, or a chapter, or re-structure the whole.}

      Just recently a mega-famous celebrity (a popular musician) was much lauded for the very frank memoir they "wrote." I happen to know who really wrote it... Yes, it's the way of the world, another thing I accept. Business, as you said.

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