MORALS AGAINST MONEY?
As a freelance designer in graphic, media and web design, I have been working since I was an undergraduate. I pursued my professional career and did my projects in freelance designing simultaneously until the commencement of my postgraduate course. My ethical dilemma occurred in one such project in 2012. In this case a friend of mine introduced me to his professional acquaintance that had some work for me. The work conditions were that my pay would first-rate and would be made promptly. Despite having quit freelance designing for half a year I decided to give it a try.
My client was well conversant and experienced in graphic design field unlike me hence he explained that it was a fairly simple web design job. Considering my prowess in web development I felt confident in web design projects for I had experience in both corporate and creative projects.
It is important to note that in our careers, whether as graphic designers, web designers, fashion designers or any other career, ethics in the workplace are essential. Ethics do not only play a role in our normal day-to-day activities, such as attending a wedding, tipping our waiters and receiving guests in our home, ethics also are a part of our business life. Web design has been described as notorious in disregarding ethics as designers overlook that websites promote advertise or sell goods and services and that they are part of moral code.
My client contacted me through my email and after concise introductions I asked ‘John’ to give me a brief of the project so as to get an idea of what the project was about. There was no formal brief but he explained that it was a website of around five pages and would be mostly graphics and advertising. This perfectly suited me as the web development would be fairly simple.
He inquired if we could come up with an appointment on when we could meet so we could talk over the details of the project. We agreed on a time the following week at John’s offices in Kings Cross. Though excited, I was as well mystified as to why he hesitated revealing project details not unless we met anyway, I gave it a shot.
Early in the morning I walked into his office and he showed me to his main studio. The studio was varnished with Bang and Olufsen products. The walls were dark colored contrasted with light colored cabinets. The interior window from office to studio had sliding shutters to keep out light when needed and even had pin board on office side of the shutters. The two metallic grey chairs placed on either side of the well furnished wooden table gave the room a completely beautiful outlook. He offered me a seat and we both went down to business details about the project at hand.
I was required to create a website for the Australian Republican Movement. I was comfortable with creating such website and was so excited that I wanted to start immediately. I took a good look of the movements manifesto and this shocked me. I had sworn never to partake in anything that concerned abortion but this manifesto upheld the procedure. Abortion is highly condemned by both religions and most cultures. He went further to explain how much he was offering me to complete this project, it was a lot much more than I had been offered before for similar projects.
THE STAKE HOLDERS
I enquired about the party’s ideologies, as it was important to me for I wanted to make sure I was not getting myself involved in a project I was uncomfortable with. I had to make a decision on if I would take up the project or not. It was essential to put into consideration the stakeholders in order to make the appropriate decision. The stakeholders were John a member of the party, The Australian Republican Movement, the Australian population and I.
I had my reputation at stake owing to the fact that I had been referred to John by my good friend and I did not want to appear inexperienced or even look irrational. Failure to take up the job also puts my friendship in jeopardy since my friend will seem untrustworthy to his colleagues. I do not support abortion personally and taking up the job would put me in a position of conflict with my beliefs and that is not ethical.
In addition getting involved with the project would be getting me to be associated with abortion which is socially culturally and environmentally unacceptable. Bearing in mind that I consider abortion a vice as a matter of fact this was unacceptable by me. No! Abortion is killing and it’s a crime, social disgrace, an abomination and a sin. I was now torn between the financial gain and the consequences of being associated with a group I did not accept its ideology on a critical issue- Abortion.
According to (Wallace, R 2007, p. 86) Aristotle explained that one should be self-aware to find a moral judgment of their actions and I argued my case based on this explanation. I am a virtuous designer there is no way as per Virtue ethics I would put financial gain ahead of my beliefs. It is as well a tough decision to make for I valued money almost as much as I placed value on my beliefs.
The decision I would make would put John and his party’s interests at risk as well since he insisted that the movement had fallen in popularity since early 1990’s after an attempt to turn Australia into republic failed. He said that this website would be a key source of information to help increase the party’s popularity to people who would then vote for them.
The people of Australia are also expecting to get the actual information about the party so as to choose their leaders wisely. On the other hand the public would argue the issue on abortion differently whereby some will support the idea while others will strongly disagree. The larger percentage of the population will disagree with the party’s argument based on cultural and social view on virtue ethics. On the contrast, if the Australian Republican Movement were elected into office, there would be a drastic change in the way leaders are voted into power and there would be further implications of being an independent state from the colonial monarchy. It is in Australian public interests to decide who runs the government of their country.
In the course of the meeting he showed the graphics he expected to have in the website. He was highly concerned with the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ the site would have and the general outlook of the site. From my own judgment he was less concerned with the impact of the site on the voter’s beliefs. As we perused through the photos one caught my attention. The photo of a kid sucking cigarette shaped candy almost made me blow up with rage which so far I had tried to contain successfully. I realized that he cared less about the future generation of Australia as children seemed of no importance to him. I however, handled the situation professionally till the end of the meeting an hour later when I left to go home. I later learned that John worked in a candy company that was manufacturing a new product of candy- the cigarette shaped candy so he wanted to use the opportunity to do a market survey.
Ethics governing a contract type of work would apply in a project like this. (Bohme, G. 1997 p. 460) stated that when business is done between two or more parties it is vital that contracts are put in place to protect all the parties involved. This is more of a legal system than rules based situation, as the rules involved in this situation are complex because the project involves both personal and business interests.
According to (Luppicini, R. 2010 p. 14) concerning rule based principle I had an obligation to John and my friend, this would mean that I should take the job in order to spare my friendship and John’s relationship with my good friend. Contrary, I had an obligation to the Australian republic which would mean I do not accept to do the project in order to respect the beliefs of the society and cultures of Australian people.
(Wallace, R. 2007 p. 89) explains that utilitarianism involves putting in consideration the greater party. From the utilitarianism point of view, I should take up the project so as to make the larger stakeholder (the Australian Republican Movement) happy. By having the web-site done well they will be able to better promote themselves to the public and, therefore if the web-site was not made then there would be less chance of anyone voting for the party. This is a rather skewed way to analyze the situation as, the most direct way of applying utilitarianism would be that I believe that the greater good would be to benefit the Australian public and they should not be subject such political promises.
(Hickman & Larry 2004 p.498)explained the ethical principle pragmatism and by pragmatically dealing with this project, I would base my argument on my need for money as a primary motivation for pursuing this project, and letting my moral rule that the party’s politics have a negative impact on society become a secondary issue.
According to (Luppicini, 2010 p. 16), my initial approach would be an end based approach, which would involve figuring out consequences and deciding which was right or wrong. I was to put aside my moral beliefs to take part in a project purely for financial gain even after feeling overly uncomfortable with the way the political party regarded children. This end based approach also involved what would happen if I had completed the project successfully. I would be helping manipulate people minds as a way of promoting the political party whose manifesto I strongly detest. This would be quite unethical and hence led me on to my next possible approach of the situation.
(Luppicini, 2010 p. 15) states that the rule based approach involves establishing a rule and following it. The rules based approach came into place because my conscience was getting the better part of me. The approach which can also be called duty ethics insists on establishing a rule and following it. The initial excitement of money had sunk in; I began to think about how my own actions would cause consequence to others. If I carry out the project, I would be better off financially, but to whose expense? I would be giving up on my own morals and allow the Australian people to be lured to accept a political party that would cause more harm9 by upholding abortion) than good. If I continued then I would also be a hypocrite and my intentions could be questioned in the future. I had an obligation of upholding the morals of the people of Australia.
That night I sat with myself and thought about the task ahead over and over again looking at it from all angles and weighing both advantages and disadvantages. I viewed the issue critically, the financial gain would be such a boost to my economy, it would help me settle some financial deficits I had then in terms of debts. The project paid better than any other done before, it was worth going for.
On the other hand conflicting thoughts kept crossing my mind that I had the duty to stand for what I believe in but not fight against it. I was putting my reputation at stake by taking up the project. How would the public view me after reading the site? This went on the whole night! After a lot of thinking I ended up deciding that it would not be in my own interests to carry on with the projects, I would be going against everything I stand against. I called John later the next day after plucking up the courage and I explained I would not work any further on the project. He was completely callous and interrupted as I was talking to him, he said, “Thank you!” and hanged up on me.
I reflected on the choices I had made, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I was wrestling with my own morals and beliefs. If I had to apply the test criteria as per (Wilson, 2001 p.23), for this situation I would have still come to the same conclusion:
Harm Test: creating the website would do no physical harm, however it might cause emotional harm as the Australian people who do not belief in abortion would feel offended by the site itself.
Colleagues test: My colleagues would agreed with me, that I ended up choosing the right path morally by not fighting against what I stand for and not being hypocritical.
Publicity Test: This website would be public meaning my decision on taking up the job would be made public and I would not be comfortable with creating an impression that I support abortion.
Mother test: My mother would have supported my decision either way although she may have been disappointed if I choose money over morals.
Reversibility test: I would appreciate if all professionals would stand against vices and hope that they would do the same for me if they were in my shoes.
Defensibility test: If I was asked about my views on abortion, would I be able to defend my reasons for taking the project? Probably not, it would be clear that I chose money over my own personal beliefs
I did well by standing my ground on my view about abortion. I did not put my reputation in jeopardy nor bring information to the public about vices that were not acceptable. John and his colleagues had no respect for children and making a website for them would mean I support their point of view which I don’t.
My moral rule to this dilemma is:
“Do not get involved with anything that goes against socially, environmentally and culturally accepted morals.”
My moral judgment would then be:
“I would rather not get involved with a project that supports immoral actions and ideologies. It may harm your career and also make you do things you would not agree with for money. So I decided not to pursue the project even though I would not receive the money I was initially intrigued by.”
Bohme, G. 1997. The structures and prospects of knowledge society. Symposium: “Revisiting the theory of finalization in science” Oxford. Oxford University Press pp. 447-468
Hickman, Larry .2004. “On Hugh T. Miller on ‘Why old pragmatism needs an upgrade.” Administration & Society. Cambridge. Cambridge University press: pp.496-499.
Luppicini, R. 2010. Techno ethics and the evolving knowledge society. Hershey: Idea Group Publishing. pp. 11- 23
Wallace, R. Jay. 2007. “Moral Psychology” Texas Jackson & Smith. pp. 86–113
Wilson, Timothy L. 2001. “Pragmatism and Performance Measurement: An Exploration of Practices in Texas State Government”. Applied Research Projects. Texas. Texas State University. pp. 20-24.