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Ethics is important to every society as it plays a critical role in shaping the individuals behaviours within a society. Since the dawn of human civilization, men have sought to keep human conduct in check to preserve the peace of society. Where written law is used to govern official businesses and happenings, ethics act as a self-governing system to keep human self-interest and the good of society at equilibrium because the eyes of the law are not always available (Duska, 2012).
However, as with everything in life, nothing is perfect. Ethics and human conduct are no exception to this rule. Ethics of the old days has been polluted and are inadequate for business self-governance due to changes in the environment and cultural norms. In other words, ethics in today’s society has eroded. As cited by (Gino & Bazerman, 2008), managers and leaders in modern organizations lack strong ethical standards (Andrews, 1989; Longnecker, 1985; Molander, 1987; Pit t& Abratt, 1986) or are willing to abandon them in the face of economic incentives or competitive pressures (Gellerman, 1986; Hosmer, 1987).
Humans have always been thought of as selfish creatures, and this just further proves it. Colleagues bad mouthing each other behind their backs to increase chances of promotion shows a lack of professional ethics in order to gain economic advantage can be seen as unethical, but logical. Unfortunately, some acts such as littering the streets and using the cell phone in a cinema despite being told repeatedly not to do so, is not just unethical, it is downright absurd.
However, erosion of ethics is not just limited to the business world. It has spilled over to every aspect of society, such as athletes cheating or taking drugs, and the previously unheard of bribing of Olympics organizing selection committee (Cordeiro, 2003).
There are very serious impacts to the society if the erosion of ethics is not kept in check. The public, whether it is business, friendship or any kind of interaction, functions because humans rely on a varying level of trust, respect for others, and cooperation (Cordeiro, 2003). If erosion of ethics continues to worsen, nobody will have any trust in others, at all. In the end, society will cease to function like it presently does and everyone will either lock themselves at home, or walk around heavily armed.
Unfortunately, it is not just the actual erosion of ethics, but the people’s perception of the erosion that has to be addressed as well. As cited in Cordeiro (2003), Morgan (1993) states that people are judgmental and will choose not to commit to any activities when they perceive that the other parties are unethical.
Ethical norms are ever changing because it is contextual and affected by culture, technology, religion and politics. What is ethical in one country may not be ethical in another. This just makes the evaluation of what is ethical and what is not, an even more difficult question to answer than it presently already is. However, this does not mean that the world should just give up and surrender. There are ways to at least draw the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.
It would seem that one of the more logical solutions to this problem would be to practice an ethical system based on common sense and reason, rather than religious dogma or punitive legislation (Verschoor, 2001). However, this would probably work on men and women who subscribe to reason and logic only. However, with every human being in society seeking to maximize every opportunity available, the very idea may backfire, for when the reason is self-benefit, and ethics not written in black and white, it is never easy to say what is right, and what is wrong.
2.1 Definition of Ethics
It is important to define clearly what ethics is before erosion of ethics can be explained.
As a backbone to the society, ethics play an incredibly important role to the society because it arises from the conscience or a sense to determine right and wrong. Pettifor & Jean (1996) defined as rightness and wrongness of human behaviour. Other than that, Bart (2011) also defined ethics as moral principles and rules of conduct to judge human behaviour.
However, ethics does not develop itself without moral philosophy, sociology, psychology. Ethics primarily exists in interaction of individual and society. In another word, there is a relationship between sociology and ethics. Sociology is an essential foundation for ethics because it makes way to develop human life, individual and social to create greater richness and greater harmony in society. Through the interaction with human, ethics can help to people to build trust and intimate relationship in society (Girard, 1998). Hence, individuals in the society will expect others to behave ethically and do not hurt others for personal benefit.
Furthermore, individual do not all share the same understanding of right and wrong. Based on Donaldson (1994) there are two general views of ethics: relativist and Universalist. From the relativist of view, the right or wrong is judged based on situation and dependent upon the culture. In contrast a Universalist view of ethics believes all activities should be judged based on same and unified standards, no matter what the situation or culture is. Therefore, ethics had been polluted and erosion of ethics had been dramatically increased nowadays due to peoples have different of views in judging different situations.
The Oxford dictionaries define erosion as “… the gradual destruction or diminution of something.” Henceforth, erosion of ethics is the gradual destruction or diminution of ethics, and in the case, in the society. With ethics determining an individual’s sense of right or wrong, an erosion of ethics in society means that members of society are no longer, or less and less willing, to make decision that are socially acceptable, because the only motive seems to be self- advancement without caring about other people’s pain and suffering.
2.2 Factors That Cause the Erosion Of Ethics
Role models play a huge impact in the development of an individual’s life (Perry & Nixon, 2005), and the development of one’s ethical thought and behaviour is no exception. With the emergence of mass media such as television and especially the internet, role models are becoming an even bigger influence today than ever before. Subsequently, if one views a very ethical individual as a role model, he or she will definitely grow up to uphold a high standard of ethics. On the other hand, if one’s role model is of questionable ethical practice, consequently they will have a higher chance of practicing unethical methods.
Those who identify community leaders such as religious figures, university counsellor or advisors as role models shows less willingness to adopt questionable ethical behaviour in most situations. However, those who use journalists and spouses as role models tend to be more agreeable to questionable ethical behaviour (Zekos, 2004). It can be deduced that the emerging power of journalist’s articles, especially on the internet, can play a very strong role in shaping the coming generation’s perception of ethics, be it reinforcement of ethics or erosion of ethics.
On the other hand, globalization also plays a strong role in affecting the ethical behaviours of the masses. Globalization is a transnational community in which geographical boundaries are nothing more than a political nuisance (Zekos, 2004). Globalization creates a breeding ground for erosion of ethics, especially in developing countries. This is because developing economies are in dire need of foreign investments and are in a weak bargaining position compared to more wealthy countries. As a consequence, local enforcement lacks the motivation to enforce any kind of corruption, and basically look the other way even if they discover them, as this may mean turning away potential investments in the country. This breeds a very unhealthy culture where tendering of projects is merely a façade, and it is really the bidder who pays the most illegitimate funds or provide the most gifts that will win a project.
In a situation like this, it is really up to the investors themselves to uphold a high standard of ethics. If none of the investors participate in the corruption, the local economies will have nothing to be corrupted with in the first place, and erosion of ethics may be contained.
Ethical issues rapidly arise because of conflicts among individuals’ personal moral philosophies and values (Ferrell, John, & Linda, 2010). Ethics are a person’s concept of right and wrong, a system of moral principles, and the rules of conduct that are recognized in human actions. So, ethics comprises the principles, values and standards to guide behaviour of peoples but not everyone share the same understanding of right and wrong.
Values are the universal concept or one of the components to guide somebody’s behaviour and use to develop norms that is socially enforced. In other words, value is the tool to restrain people’s behaviour. Moral values also are a standard to make the judgments on behaviour whether that action is right or wrong (Navran, 2010). Some examples of moral values include honesty, fairness, integrity, trust and etc.
In an ever changing world where cultures and people collide and interact, especially in the modern era where the internet and television acts as a strong medium to deliver foreign values and ideas, this issue is especially pervasive and ethics are more susceptible to being eroded, because information and ideas are so freely available and without proper guidance, individuals may come to an incorrect or unethical conclusion on their own. Worst still, they may actually perceive these unethical behaviour as ethical, and carry out unethical activities without any guilt.
Honesty is also synonymous with truthfulness or trustworthiness and its antonym is lying, cheating and stealing. To tell the truth to the best of your knowledge without hiding anything can be defined as being honest. If an individual is lack of integrity, then the person is dishonest and that will cause damage or harm to others, such as risky driving (Blankenship & Whitley, 2000), theft from employers (Hilbert, 1985), alcohol abuse (Kerkvliet, 1994) and cheating on income taxes (Fass, 1989).
In a rapidly globalizing world, honesty seems to be in scarce supply as the trend seems to be individuals seeking maximum self-interest without any care for others. This decline can be attributed to factors such as selfish foreigners and expatriates not paying attention to local laws and norms because they will not stay for long.
2.3 Religious and folk belief’s perspective on the Erosion of Ethics
From the perspective of Christianity, among all of God’s creations, human beings are the most highly evolved species and they play a vital role as the house keeper of this world. According to the Genesis in the Bible, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” So, humans are able to present their glorious personalities as beautiful and peaceful angels as they are born in the image of God (Genesis, n.d.)
Erosion of ethics exists because humans are naturally born with selfish and self-preservation thoughts. To argue whether humans are naturally born unethical because of natural sin, would be an interesting topic to discover. From Christianity point of view, the first ancestors of humans, Adam and Eve, went against God’s order when they ate the forbidden fruit on the sly. This crime they committed is considered by christianity as the human’s original sin. Therefore, God believe that everyone has sin when they are born (Choong, 2009). That is also the reason God send Jesus to rescue people and help them to cleanse their sin. For this, the doctrine of Christianity is that everyone commits an original sin.
From a religious point of view, those who do not subsribe to religion maybe more prone to unethical behaviour, due to lack of fear of divine punishment. Some children are seen as greedy when there is no one to teach them the right way. Even when they are young, a child already know the techniques to lie in order to get what they want. This would be the point that erosion of ethics exist naturally, leading to humans behaving unethically. Therefore, the issues of pollution of ethics become even more serious day by day when the influence of religion continues to decrease in today’s society, due to the modern non-religious way of living.
However, the traditional Chinese’ theory on human’s origin is utterly different from the Christianity view. Chinese believe that man is kind when they are born (Sun, 2005). According to Buddhism, all living creatures have the nature of a Buddha, so a man cannot commit an original sin. It is also supported by the Chinese traditional saying, that an evil idea is caused by misfortunes and not other factors, leading to humans commiting crime (Sun, 2005).
2.4 The Impact of Erosion of Ethics to Society
First of all, erosion of ethics can have harmful effects on innocent people. It is because, when people wants to get more benefits, they act unethically without concern for others, committing acts such as cheating, fraud, and breaking of rules. All this may bring harm to the innocent. Sometimes, people erode their ethics and sacrifice the minority of people in order to satisfy the needs and happiness of the majority (Jessica, 2005). Ultimately, society is in a lower state of harmony due to distrust, as a result of having harm inflicted on them even though they did no bad deeds themselves.
Relationships are built on one fundamental principle, and that principle is trust. However, erosion of ethics has affected the level of trust between people (Hill, 2009). This is pervasive and everything from friendships to business transactions is severely constricted. This is due to the feeling of uncertainty and doubt between each other. As a consequence, businesses will be caught in tons of red tape and bureaucracy and the growth of economy will be retarded.
Apart from that, there is concern that, if people know that everyone else is cheating or are dishonest, they themselves will be more likely to cheat and consequently self-inflict erosion of ethics (McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 1999; McCabe & Trevino, 1993). Likewise, when one engages the masses of society and feels that cheating is commonplace and acceptable, at long last, people may also engage in unethical behaviour due to it being a norm, and as a result, erosion of ethics increases (Cole & Smith, 1996; Mangan, 2006). Ultimately, people erode ethics to gain personal interest.
Moreover, breaking rules or irregularities invariably is one of the negative consequences of erosion of ethics. Breaking rules can lead to penalties such as fines and imprisonment. Often, some of the unethical behaviour can be hidden by others. However, after a period of time, society could be adversely affected (Janette, 2011). Erosion of ethics is like the spreading of virus; if it is not stopped it will spread and become more and more severe. Families may be torn apart after they find out one of their members are involved in criminal acts. The involved individuals may not only tarnish their own reputation and image, but of their family’s as well.
In this study, ethics is shown to play an important role in moulding one’s behaviour to identify what is right and wrong to do in a society, as it is a belief and standard that helps to create a harmonious and conforming environment. Not only that, in order to eradicate erosion of ethics among society one need to understand why ethics play a vital role to everyone as a whole, and not being bias to only a part of the community.
Through this study, tons of knowledge is learnt and seems to be very useful as an early detection of how, when, who and why erosions of ethics could happen as on many occasion the importance of ethics tend to take a “back sit”.
There is no universal definition of what exactly ethics is, but amidst all the troubles in the world, ethics still acts as a guiding force to dictate an individual’s sense of right and wrong, and the erosion of ethics is becoming increasingly troubling and if not stemmed out soon, will definitely spell trouble for all civilization, because the rapid rise of globalization meant that everyone on this planet is connected to one another.
Religion, be it the doctrines itself or the strict religious leaders, seems to have an impact on the followers of the religion. Whether there is a direct relationship between a strong faith and high ethical conduct remains to be seen, but what is certain however is that all mainstream religions pushes for good and kind behaviour to the general public, and that is in no way a bad thing.
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