Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Potter Box is useful as long as you are ethical

Some ethical decision making processes occur without any painstaking practices.  These processes happen all the time.  You are taking a test and you choose to not glance over at another student’s scantron, or you turn in a paper and you choose to not plagiarize any content.  Decisions like this are extremely easy and are made without any additional thought... or are they?
Unfortunately, decisions to act ethically don’t always come second nature.  For instance, lets say the student taking the test will fail the class resulting in pushing his or her graduation back another semester.  For that student, choosing whether or not to cheat just became a little more difficult.
The Potter Box analysis can be an extremely useful tool when deciding how to treat various ethical dilemmas.  The 5 step process of the Potter Box is define the situation, determine loyalties, determine values, identify principles, and make a decision.  After you go through each step involved in the analysis, you may come to find what was once a difficult decision is now an easier decision to make.  Still, we face the problem of people who have trouble even recognizing a difficult ethical decision.  Some decisions may be acted upon without second thought but are also completely unethical.
Based on the case discussed in class, the female intern stands to lose a lot in the long-term by acting unethically.  As an intern, you are a sponge to your environment.  Your first internship can be an extremely important experience because here, you are relating what you do in class to what is actually being done in the real world.  It is easy to assume what people do outside of the classroom is automatically right.  How could they be wrong if what they are doing is working and profitable?  
If the intern had an issue with doing “whatever means necessary” to sell advertising, she could have gone through the 5 steps of the Potter Box to help her come to the right decision.  However, the only issue I have with the process is the decision to use it.  
People who are lacking personal ethics or intuition may not see their decisions as difficult even though they may be completely unethical.  For the intern, if she has no previous experience in the field or has never taken an ethics class, she may not have the personal ethics or gut feeling to know something doesn’t feel right.  I would only use this process if I had a feeling what I was about to do may be wrong or harmful to me, publics, or stakeholders in the situation.  
The Potter Box is an extremely useful tool however, I believe you need to have a solid foundation of personal ethics to make the decision to use it.

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