How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living

How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living

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Should you take a much-needed vacation or save money for your children's education? Should you protect the endangered owl or maintain jobs for loggers?

How do you handle questions such as these? We frequently face ethical dilemmas in our daily lives, and few have trouble with the "right vs. wrong" choices. However, the "right vs. right" dilemmas, in which neither choice is clearly or widely accepted as wrong, many times present obstacles that call for value-based decisions, and that's where we often need help.

Kidder — the founder of the Institute for Global Ethics — teaches us how to think for ourselves in order to resolve any ethical dilemma, from the personal to the philosophical. Unique in its approach and full of illustrative anecdotes, How Good People Make Tough Choices is an indispensable resource for arriving at sound conclusions when facing tough choices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781559948951
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/06/1995
Edition description: Abridged
Product dimensions: 4.25(w) x 2.75(h) x 6.30(d)

About the Author

Rushworth M. Kidder was a professor of English at Wichita State University for ten years before becoming an award-winning columnist and editor at the Christian Science Monitor. The author of ten books on subjects ranging from international ethics to the global future, he won the 1980 Explicator Literary Foundation Award for his book on the poetry of E.E. cummings. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Lincolnville, Maine.

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How Good People Make Tough Choices
Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living

Chapter One

Overview: The Ethics of Right Versus Right

All of us face tough choices.

Sometimes we duck them. Sometimes we address them. Even when we address them, however, we don't always decide to resolve them. Sometimes we simply brood endlessly over possible outcomes or agonize about paths to pursue.

And even if we do try to resolve them, we don't always do so by energetic self-reflection. Sometimes we simply bull our way through to a conclusion by sheer impatience and assertive self-will -- as though getting it resolved were more important than getting it right.

This is a book for those who want to address and resolve tough choices through energetic self-reflection. Those are the people, after all, whom we often think of as "good" people. They are good, we say, because they seem to have some conscious sense of vision, some deep core of ethical values, that gives them the courage to stand up to the tough choices. That doesn't mean they face fewer choices than other people. Quite the opposite: Those who live in close proximity to their basic values are apt to agonize over choices that other people, drifting over the surface of their lives, might never even see as problems. Sound values raise tough choices; and tough choices are never easy.

That was the case with a librarian who, several years ago, was working the reference desk at the public library in her community.

The phone rang. The questioner, a male, wanted some information on state laws concerning rape. The librarian asked several questions to clarify the nature of his inquiry. Then, in keeping with long-established library policy designed to keep phone lines from being tied up, she explained that she would call him back in a few minutes after researching his question. She took down his first name and phone number, and hung up.

She was just getting up to do the research when a man who had been sitting in the reading area within earshot of the reference desk approached her. Flashing a police detective's badge, he asked for the name and number of the caller. The reason: The conversation he had overheard led him to suspect that the caller was the perpetrator of a rape that had happened the night before in the community.

What should she do? On one hand, she herself was a member of the community. She felt very strongly about the need to maintain law and order. As a woman, she was particularly concerned that a rapist might be at large in the community. And as a citizen, she wanted to do whatever she could to reduce the possibility that he might strike again. After all, what if she refused to tell -- and another rape happened the following night?

On the other hand, she felt just as strongly that her professional code as a librarian required her to protect the confidentiality of all callers. She felt that free access to information was vital to the success of democracy, and that if people seeking information were being watched and categorized simply by the kinds of questions they asked, the police state was not far behind. The right of privacy, she felt, must extend to everyone. After all, what if this caller was simply a student writing a paper on rape for a civics class?

The choice she faced was clearly of the right-versus-right sort. It was right to support the community's quest for law and order. But it was also right to honor confidentiality, as her professional code required. What made the choice so tough for her? The fact that her values were so well defined. Had she been less concerned about the confidentiality of information -- which, in its highest form, grows out of a desire to respect and honor everyone in her community -- she might not have hesitated to turn over the name to the detective. She might have bowed so entirely to the authority of the officer -- or sought so willingly to help him bring the criminal to justice -- that she would never have noticed how quickly, in her mind, "the caller" became "the criminal" before he had even been questioned. On the other hand, had she been single-mindedly committed to her profession as a gatekeeper of society's information, she might never even have considered her obligations to the larger community. She might simply have stood on the principle of confidentiality, and seen no conflict with the urgency of a social need.

Tough choices don't always involve professional codes or criminal laws. Nor do they always involve big, headline-size issues. They often operate in areas that laws and regulations don't reach. That was the case for a corporate executive with a nationwide manufacturing firm, who faced such a choice shortly after becoming manager of one of his company's plants in California. Every year, he learned, the producer of one of Hollywood's best-known television adventure series shot a segment for one of its shows in the plant's parking lot. Every year, the upper management at his firm's corporate headquarters allowed the crew to do the filming free of charge -- typically on a Saturday, when the lot was empty. And every year Mr. Gray, the former plant manager, had given up weekend time with his family in order to be on location and assist the television crew.

So this year the new plant manager did the same. The shoot went as planned. At the end of the day, the producer came up to him, thanked him for his help, and asked how the check for five hundred dollars should be made out. Surprised, the manager replied that it should be made out to the corporation. Surprised in turn, the producer said, "Oh, okay. In the past we've always made it out to Mr. Gray. Shouldn't we just make it out to you?"

Tough choice? In a sense, yes ...

How Good People Make Tough Choices
Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living
. Copyright © by Rushworth Kidder. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents


Chapter One
Overview: The Ethics of Right Versus Right

Chapter Two
Right Versus Wrong: Why Ethics Matters

Chapter Three
Ethical Fitness

Chapter Four
Core Values

Chapter Five
Right Versus Right: The Nature of Dilemma Paradigms

Chapter Six
Three More Dilemma Paradigms

Chapter Seven
Resolution Principles

Chapter Eight
"There's Only 'Ethics'"

Chapter Nine
Epilogue: Ethics in the Twenty-first Century


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“A thought-provoking guide to enlightened and progressive personal behavior.”

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How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mlsPA More than 1 year ago
Good read. Enjoyed the practical examples.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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harstan More than 1 year ago
This is a super reference that provides readers with pragmatic guidance on making ethical choices when often a less moral short cut is available. Mr. Kidder uses specific examples deciding right from wrong in which most frequently neither is absolute and rarely are they the solo options or obvious which is actually right and wrong. In some cases, the dilemma in choosing what your values scream at you is right, but doing so places you in an uncomfortable position when not doing what your gut feels is right would be noticed by only one person. Loaded with specific examples of having to choose (for instance, the example of worried parents talking to their child's teacher about behavior when the child told the teacher a secret in confidence) makes this a winner. Even society and communities have difficult ethical choices between for instance the environment and energy or development and heritage as short term needs bump against long term goals. Sometimes the debate is personal and communal as is the case with abortion. How people look at the issues may change as for instance HIV when Magic Johnson told the world he had it and the economy influences decisions especially in recessions; still Mr. Kidder still feels strongly a person must eat or get their medicine while sticking to their personal values. Throughout Mr. Kidder makes this case to adhere to your personal values even when it hurts in the short run because you are being true to yourself, which in the long run will cause less pain to you. This is a strong guidebook due to the terrific pragmatic examples of making tough ethical choices. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago