Sample Ethics Essay
One of the most significant aspects of the Communication Studies major at San Francisco State is developing understandings of ethical communication standards and adhering to those standards. “Ethics” refers to right and wrong, so communication ethics means that some ways of communicating are unacceptable or inappropriate, while others ways of communicating are valued and desirable. Most people have some understanding of basic communication ethics, having been told as children not to lie or call others names. Communication Studies helps one develop a richer and more complex sense of communication ethics across communication contexts.
Communication ethics refers to far more than telling the truth. The National Communication Association [NCA] has developed a credo for ethical communication. What is powerful about the NCA credo is that it takes a stance regarding what we must do to be ethical communicators. For example, it states that we must “strive to understand and respect other communicators” before responding. The credo states that we must “condemn” communication that degrades individuals. It also states that we must “accept responsibility” for the consequences of our communication and “promote access” to communication resources. Communication ethics is not just knowing what is right and wrong; it is adhering to and advocating for ethical communication standards.
Communication ethics thread throughout all contexts of communication, although the meaning of specific ethical standards may differ depending on the context. For example, the NCA credo for ethical communication “advocates truthfulness, honesty, and accuracy.” In a relational context, this might mean understanding different forms of deception and avoiding patterns of deception in interpersonal communication. In a public speaking context, truthfulness, honesty, and accuracy are still relevant, but the emphasis may be on supporting one’s argument with credible sources and not hiding or dismissing credible evidence that does not fully support one’s position. In another context—communication research—truthfulness, honesty, and accuracy may emphasize not falsifying data or the results of data analysis. In all contexts of communication, the Communication Studies major helps one understand relevant ethical communication standards and adhere to those standards.
One example of how I examined my communication practices and strove to be a more ethical communicator was through a reflection paper in Communication and Aging. In that class, we talked about ageism (i.e., discrimination against or dislike/distaste for an older person based on age). Treating other human beings as though they are beneath us is unethical communication. Ageism pervades our society, and we are often unconscious of our ageist attitudes and beliefs. Focusing on my attitudes toward older people, I realized that I held a moderate degree of ageism and that my ageism was reflected in how I communicated with and about older customers where I work.
In a reflection paper regarding ageism, I described my communication as a server at a restaurant. I admitted rolling my eyes at fellow servers when an older customer would get seated in my section (because I assumed the customer would be slow, needy, and leave a small tip) and spending as little time as possible interacting with the older adult, compared to my other customers. The reflection paper required me to describe a specific plan I could enact to catch myself engaging in this ageist (i.e., unethical) communication, then report after a month how well I did enacting my plan.
My specific plan for avoiding ageist communication at work included several steps. First, I needed to catch myself making negative assumptions about older customers. I needed to avoid pre-judging anyone seated in my section, and remind myself that it is my job to provide good customer service, so I should strive to do just that. Second, I committed to being friendly, helpful, and patient with all of my customers. If I let myself be annoyed when a customer asks several questions about the menu, asks about substitutions, or asks for something else as soon as I return having met their first request, then I am only making my job unpleasant for myself. People are paying for a meal and have a right to enjoy it, so I promised myself I would provide good service and not assume that only the older customers would engage in certain behaviors. Third, I planned to respond when my co-workers made comments or nonverbally signaled annoyance with older customers. It is hard to “call out” my peers, but I planned to say things like, “I would feel bad if that was my grandma and the servers were judging her” or “It will be fine. Everyone just wants a nice meal.”
I am proud to say that through the plan I described in my reflection paper I became much more aware of my ageist attitudes and I worked to be open-minded and provide the best service I could to all of my customers. It was easy to catch myself making assumptions and I quickly reminded myself I was being ageist. I found myself being more friendly and engaged with all of my customers because I was focused on doing a good job instead of judging people. It turned out, most of my older customers are not slow or needy and they are good tippers. Admitting my unethical behavior and working to modify my attitudes and communication opened my eyes to the unfairness of my assumptions and left me more aware of how communication creates and reflects discrimination.
I was most nervous about enacting the third part of my plan—saying something when my co-workers verbally or nonverbally engaged in ageist communication. Being in Communication & Aging, I realized that communicating ageism is no better than communicating racism, sexism, or homophobia, but unfortunately most people do not recognize ageism in the same way. I was worried about how my co-workers would respond if I challenged their communication. It turned out my co-workers were open to the challenge. One night, we were really busy and an older couple came in and were being seated in my friend’s section. She rolled her eyes at me and said, “Great. They are going to take forever and we are slammed.” I said, “I am sure they just want to enjoy their meal. They are no different than anyone else.” My friend said, “Yeah, you’re right.” It wasn’t a lecture on ageism, but I did challenge ageist communication and it seemed to be successful.
Communication ethics is about respecting ourselves and others in a variety of ways. In my Communication Studies major, I learned to take responsibility for my communication. Communication reflects and creates assumptions about ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. I have become more mindful of the power of communication and I strive to communicate in ways that honor differences.