This is the first of a series of blog posts related to the topic of communication ethics. To get things started, I’ll give a brief overview of the idea of communication ethics, then give my personal take on what I see as “the Good” in my life at this time and place. Or rather, I will explore the multiplicity of goods, the competing goods, that mark this moment in my life.
When we think of the term ethics, we often think of morals or the idea of right and wrong. Communication ethics is “a pragmatic alternative to prescriptive telling about ‘the right’ and ‘the wrong’” (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 2) and focuses on “sorting through differing views of the good” as they exist in this historical moment (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. xii). “The Good” refers to “a central value or set of values… that we seek to protect and promote in our discourse together” (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 2). At any given time, we are navigating competing goods in our “communicative acts”—that of “the Other” and those of our own. In this postmodern era marked by difference, disagreement is a given. The goal of communication ethics is to navigate these differences by learning and dialogue, with the understanding that this navigation is “temporal, open to change” and in a constant state of flux (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 12). Learning and dialogue begins with self-reflection and self-awareness of our own personal good(s); before we can effectively communicate with someone else, we must understand what we ourselves are trying “to protect and promote and why” (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 8).
Thus, it is appropriate that I begin an ongoing discussion of communication ethics by exploring “the Good” in my life at this time.
I have a high value for the freedom of thought of “the Other.” I have always considered myself to be a both/and person, someone who had a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance who could see (and hold) both sides of an opposing idea. I now realize that this indicates that I have a high tolerance for “competing goods,” values in direct competition with one another (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 9). I also have a high tolerance for a “multiplicity of goods… the existence of radically different understandings of what is good and right held by different people” (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 9). This doesn’t mean that I agree that these values are “good”; I believe that “the Good” rests in allowing for difference, even when the opposing values of “the Other” makes me mad, frustrated, and sad. This would suggest that in dealing with “the Other,” I consider learning, discourse, tolerance, and refraining from judgment to be “the good.”
Communication ethics suggests that “protection requires adaptation—a willingness to be open to new manifestations of the old and a willingness to admit when an idea’s time has passed” (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 6). Values that I once held dear have now shifted (see tolerance and refraining from judgment mentioned above) and new values have taken their place. Further, those values that I feel motivated to protect and promote have shifted as I decide that some battles are not worth fighting. However, the place that I have most faced the need to adapt involves my own internal set of competing goods. In my twenties, I valued travel and self-discovery and placed these above other values, such as career development and romantic relationships. In my thirties, I became more career focused and was willing to sacrifice other goods in its pursuits. Now in my forties, I find a new set of goods competing for my attention. I received as a core good from my upbringing the support and care for my family. However, in the last few years I’ve faced repeated caregiving scenarios that have impacted other goods I hold dear—career, relationships, self-care. I find that I feel trapped in my own dedication to the good of caregiving, and at this time, in this moment, I daily attempt to resolve my own conflict regarding what the good of “caregiving” really means. I have been forced to be reflective regarding communicative acts with myself that have become habituated based on promotion and protection of a good that was given to me, trying to decide how this good relates to the other goods in my life (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 8).
My personal interpretation of “the good” on both a global and personal level impacts my interaction with others. The degree to which I am aware of my own sense of the good allows me to be open to learning about others, and about myself. I enjoy the idea of a multiplicity of goods, even when I don’t agree with opposing viewpoints of “the Other.” In reflecting on my own experience of the good in my personal life, I think of this statement: “Communication ethics begins by meeting this historical moment, not a fictional one that we wish for or demand, just the one before us” (Arnett, Harden Fritz, & Bell, p. 20). There are times that I wish I wasn’t living the battle of competing goods in my life; there are times that I wish that our country wasn’t so politically polarized and dominated by hate speech. However, I’m living in this historical moment, this one right before me, and I try every day to show up and meet it with curiosity and grace.
Question to the reader: I see work/life balance as the ultimate struggle of competing goods. How do you resolve the competition between valuing career success and handling family responsibility?
Arnett, B.C., Harden Fritz, J.M.& Bell, L.M. (2009). Communication ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.