Arnett, Harden Fritz & Bell (2009) provide three metaphors for communication ethics, including:
- Pragmatic – The need for practical engagement of ideas
- Crisis communication – The need for application to the unexpected
- Communication ethics literacy – The good between the “self” and “Other” in a particular moment (Arnett, Harden Fritz & Bell, 2009, p. 210).
I think that the most important concept for communication scholars to remember as they take their communications ethics literacy to the public setting is to always understand the “good” of a situation. In communication ethics the “good” is what is the most important, valued and highest regarded (Arnett et al., 2009).
As it relates our communication ethics literacy, whether it’s with our family, community or personal lives, I think that interpersonal communications ethics should act as our guiding principle. The “good” of the relationship, not what you or the “Other” wants, it is what is “good” for the relationship. As Arnett et al. (2009) state, “Interpersonal communication ethics rest not in our hopes or wishes, or those of another, but in something that we invite and can never create alone, a relationship that calls us to responsibility,” (p.126). Being mindful in our communications ethics literacy is key. While this “good” can change over time, the importance rests in the fact that one is acting on behalf of the relationship, not the individual.
To act responsibility, we should understand differing views and what good they are protecting and promoting. “Communication ethics calls for us to learn about differing views of the good assumed by differing positions,” (Arnett, Harden Fritz & Bell, 2009, p. 213). One example that comes to mind is the differing viewpoints on running. As a runner, I often encounter others who try to convince me that running is bad for me. They state that I’ll have early arthritis and damage my knees. I, on the other hand, believe that running improves my mood, helps me stay in shape and adds years to my life. Rather than engage in a debate with the “Other” on the issue of the health effects of running, I should ask myself, “what is the communicative good?” The “good” that we are both promoting our own health and wellness. Therefore, I understand that I don’t have to convince the “Other” to agree with my viewpoint, but rather I should listen to their viewpoint and agree that we may differ in opinion, but our end goal is the same. “Difference is what fuels the dialogic call of this historical moment,” (Arnett, Harden Fritz & Bell, 2009, p. 214). I may end up learning something from the “Other”, as they may point to research in which I wasn’t aware. It doesn’t mean that I have to change my viewpoint on running, but I can learn from “Other” and expand my knowledge. As Arnett et al. (2009) state, it’s our responsibility to learn and engage in information that we do not know.
Arnett et al. (2009) explain the “existential” legacy of philosophers Heidegger, Arendt, Bonhoeffer, Jaspers, and Buber when they say “Simply put, it is only through darkness that light offers meaning, and vice versa – the dialectic is a defining sense of identity for all existence,” (Arnett, Harden Fritz & Bell, 2009, p. 222). That’s a beautiful way of explaining that understanding the “Other’s” point of view is not only ethical, it’s necessary. My son and I had a great debate this weekend while we were at the beach. He’s only 11 years old and I was so proud of him for having the scientific knowledge and fortitude to engage me in an intellectual debate. I kept telling him, “While I don’t agree with your viewpoint, I love that we are having this discussion and that you are expressing yourself so clearly!” Just as Arnett et al. (2009) stated that dialogue requires us to know the ground from which we speak and engage the “Other” with openness to learn, my son and I were able to do this to learn from the discourse. No matter what the topic or our stance, if we come from a place of openness, we will be able to increase our communications ethics literacy.
Have you applied communications ethics literacy in a debate with one whom you didn’t agree, but respected their opinion?
Arnett, B.C., Harden Fritz, J.M. & Bell, L.M. (2009). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Los Angeles, California: SAGE Publications., Inc.