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Monday, May 2, 2011

It's Not a Big Deal, Really ... Really?

I, a member of the Boomer Generation recently had the following conversation on ethical perspectives with members of the Y Generation. It went something like this…

Me: is it ethical to park in a permit only parking garage if one does not have a parking permit?

Gen Y ‘them’: It depends. It depends on how much the fine is for parking illegally and whether it’s really worth the fine to park there; yes, if I’m in a hurry, I’ll park in the garage and take my chances.

Me: would it matter to you if you knew that those who legally park in the garage pay $250 per year to do so? And if you park there you are potentially taking their parking spot?

Gen Y ‘them’: No. If I need to park in the garage, I just do it. I don’t care who’s paid and who hasn’t. It’s a matter of convenience for us. And besides, it’s the University’s fault that we break the rules. If they would provide more parking ….

Me: Do you see this as an ethical issue? After all, it is breaking a law.

Gen Y ‘them’: No, it’s not an ethical issue at all. And it’s only breaking the rule/ law if we get caught. And the fine is so small that it’s worth the gamble.

I was stunned.

· My perspective = Parking in a permit only garage without a permit is illegal, therefore, it is unethical.

· Their perspective = Parking in a permit only garage without a permit is
a gamble and a matter of convenience AND it’s not their fault anyway.


This issue seemed like a no brainer to me. But that is the beauty of ethics; what is clear to one is mud to another. It’s truly a matter of perspective. Now, I could go into moral and behavioral psychology and even discuss (as one student eloquently and passionately wrote in an email follow-up to the previous conversation) how people are often are more likely to be swayed by ‘incentives given by the structure of society than by their internal motivations’ than by rules and penalties. But that’s not truly where I want to go with this topic.

In the next couple of entries, I plan to explore the idea of ethics from a multi-generational perception. I want to look at the dimensions in the perception of ethics. It's going to be an interesting exploration.

It seems that more than beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.



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