In today’s society, personal opinions color viewpoints on everything from political issues overseas to the latest dress Kim Kardashian was wearing. Often times those opinions clash and peopleargue and berate the other person’s position. As Arnett, Fritz, and Bell (2009) remind us, “we must learn about other views of the good with recognition that, like it or not, multiple views of the good exist and contend for attention in the ongoing postmodern marketplace of ideas” (p.211). What this tells us is that we live in an era where there is no longer one all -encompassing view of what is good or right and that we find ourselves in a place and time where difference and disagreement rule. So, how can we communicate ethically and effectively if everyone maintains their own version of what is good?
First, we must remember that every person subscribes to a different set of beliefs and values. These beliefs and values can stem from various cultural traditions, religious doctrines, and personal experiences that have influenced and shaped each person’s version of good. For instance, I am from a large family who always celebrate holidays and birthdays together. We often have Sunday dinners and are continuously connected in each others lives. This has instilled in me a sense of familial closeness and I find it odd that my fiance’s family very rarely has dinner together, even for holiday celebrations, and maintain their lives so disassociated from each other. Arnett, et al., (2009) discuss various communication ethics theories that they liken to various prescription lenses. Each lense offers us a different perspective with which to view a situation and affords us the opportunity to see things we may not have seen before. In viewing my fiance’s family from a different perspective, I can see how they might protect and promote the good of independence over familial closeness.
Arnett, et al., remind us that “communication ethics is the call to learn about differing views of the good assumed by differing positions” and that “to ignore the diversity of goods is to miss the communication challenges and opportunities before us” (p.213). In essence, living in a world of differing views of good presents us with a way to learn and open ourselves to new possibilities. In order to do this, we must understand our own “ground,” or reasoning behind our beliefs, in order to view and understand the ground of another person. Think of it in this way: How can I learn a new language, if I do not have an original language with which to refer to for translations?
It is important to maintain a foundation of belief in order to be able to learn about new beliefs. I can believe that being healthy means eating right and exercising regularly. I can base this belief on the fact that I eat a healthy and balanced diet, as well as exercise regularly and very rarely feel sick or ill. My ground is based on life experience and personal doctrine; it informs and perpetuates my belief. However, another person can believe that healthy means never getting over 120 pounds. For this person, perhaps their interpretation of healthy stems from a medical perspective wherein the body mass Index (BMI) informs how a person must maintain a specific weight for their height in order to be considered healthy. Only subscribing to one version of healthy is acceptable, but can severely limit a person’s view of the term and inhibits them from learning about another perspective.
We must embrace the opportunities in which we can learn from each other, keeping in mind that learning does not necessarily equate to agreement. Learning simply provides us with a different view from which we can review our own positions and which guides us toward incorporating new insights into our current beliefs. As Arnett, et al., explain, “theory does not stop conflict, but permits the looking and the examination to take on a public dimension that lessens our tendency to look only to find what we want or demand to see” (p.218). Learning works in conjunction with dialogue as dialogue “requires that one know the ground from which one speaks, meet the Other with a willingness to learn, and learn about the ground from which the Other’s discourse emerges” (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009, p.223). The difficulty in communication ethics today lies in the ability to dialogue. Most people are adamant about their own grounds and beliefs that they inhibit the ability for another person’s ground and beliefs to come into light, which defeats the process of dialoguing and shuts down the ability to learn from one another. I see this occur frequently in my daily life. One coworker is adamant about how processes and policies should be upheld and refuses to (rationally) discuss with others why certain exceptions may be made within the organization. Instead of allowing herself to learn why one employee may be allowed to miss a mandatory meeting, she harangues about how there is favoritism within the organization and how she is the only one who follows the rules as they should be.
I try to focus and be diligent about communicating mindfully; I clarify my ground, share my ideals and beliefs, and listen to the opinions of others. I use new information to review my standpoints and make adjustments if I feel inclined. I try to share my knowledge of communication ethics with co-workers, friends, and family so that they too can review and readjust how they communicate. Instead of communicating in a combative way, we need to step back from our personal opinions and be respectful enough to look at where another person is coming from. Most importantly we need to remember that while we may not always be able to agree upon the good in a situation, we can learn from the differences we encounter and learning can make all the difference.
Arnett, R., Harden Fritz, J., & Bell, L. (2009). Communication ethics literacy: Dialogue and difference. Los Angeles, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.