The ball tampering scandal surrounding the Australian cricket team could shine a light on the unfashionable topic of ethics. For many years, most cricket fans in Australia have disliked the over aggressive approach of our players – now we see that this “win at all costs” thinking led to actual cheating.
It is not just cricket that faces ethical challenges. Globally, Facebook has been massively damaged by secret use of data. In Australia, the major banks are all hurting because of practices that are more about making money and less about ethical banking. Around the world, churches and charitable groups are under the spotlight for abuse of our most weak and vulnerable – our children. Now cricket has its turn.
But here we face a roadblock. In the west we do not have an agreed and common “language” of ethics. We struggle to find answers to what is ethical. We can spot a breakdown in ethics when it happens, but cannot identify what the ethical alternative is or how to apply it.
Because our society cannot explain ethics, our schools struggle to teach it – and any public dialogue becomes complex.
Can we have a simple formula for what is ethical?
I learned from India that a personal ethical approach can be based on two simple guidelines. First, is my proposed action going to do any harm? If the answer is yes (harm to self or others) then it at least needs to be reconsidered. Second, is there an opportunity for my actions to be of benefit to myself and others? My teacher had this way of expressing core ethics: “Mindful and aware I give no harm, but always look to contribute”.
With this approach the Australian cricket team would not have tampered with the ball and might even reconsider their addiction to the nasty bullying that we call “sledging”.
But it is really an issue for the rest of us too. Even in seemingly trivial actions like driving in traffic, the western supremacy of the individual over community has led most of us to behave in ways we might not be proud of.
Can we recreate a language of what is ethics, starting by agreeing on some simple ways to describe ethical behaviour?