Learning and Development Ethics: Article 5 of 9

Written by Hannes Nel

Introduction. This article deals with:

  • Blaming others when things go wrong.
  • Being truthful.

Stop blaming others for things that go wrong. Assigning blame is a destructive action that causes defensiveness and shapes an environment in which learners and staff members become afraid to try innovation, creativity and risk taking. The instinctive reaction when someone in the learning institution makes a mistake that costs the organization money or perhaps even customers is to put the blame on the person who is regarded as being responsible for the damage. Often this person is just a scapegoat, and often it is the “real culprit” who points the finger first.

You need to keep in mind that all human beings make mistakes from time to time and you might well lose a staff member who could have done great work if you dealt with the incident in a more objective and mature manner. Mistakes need to be investigated and honest mistakes need to be treated differently from mistakes made with intent to do damage to the organisation or an individual. You need to show that you trust the unlucky staff member, unless intent can be proven.

Others can always learn from the mistakes made by an individual or even a group. Lessons learned should therefore be shared, keeping in mind that the person or persons who made the mistake are entitled to fair and respectful treatment. You can speak to the individual or group who made the mistake privately if necessary. Show empathy to help diffuse the tension and let the person know that you understand when the mistake was just an honest one. Also keep in mind that you should give credit for work well done. 

Be truthful. Lying is often the gut-level defensive reaction to a perceived threat. When you feel the desire to hide the truth, take time to jot down what you will get out of a trusting relationship versus the short-term gain you might get by evading the truth. Lying begins a risky cycle that breaks down trust and encourages more lying. The long-term impact on you and the learning institution is never worth the perceived short-term escape.

The internal ability to distinguish between right and wrong develops from an early age. Your conscience recognizes certain principles that lead to feelings of guilt if you violate them.

Close. In closing, you can easily act objectively and ethically by just focusing more on serving others than just satisfying your own needs. Life is often “wired” in such a way that the opposite of what you expect happens. By serving others you stand to benefit the most and by being selfish you actually do yourself serious damage on many different levels.

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