A philosophy professor once told me, many years ago, that life holds no problems, and that everything that we call problems are, fundamentally, just shared misunderstandings that are the result of misspeaking.
Though this thought may seem simplistic, it is far from it: error-free communication is essential to understanding.
With this in mind, it appears that in 2017, in our society that is said to be a communication society, in which we write more and more text messages and emails, we truly communicate less and less. These messages are often inexact at best or glaringly obscure. Take for example a strategic plan with phrases such as: “the structuring effects of the key elements on the overall strategy for the implementation of the action plan…” Worse still, other messages simply contain emojis and nonsense. This prattling and terribly vague communication in which there is no comprehension can only lead to error and confusion when assessing an ethical issue.
Orwell accurately said about words that “…the smaller the area of choice, the smaller the temptation to take thought.” Words are not about vanity; they are the vector of comprehension.
Comprehension is about being able to unite or to grasp the entirety of the concept. In order to unite, to comprehend, we must be able to name and enunciate properly and, in order to enunciate properly, we must have words.
It is surprising to learn that when the Bible was first published in English, the English language had roughly 6,000 words, and by the time Shakespeare wrote, he could choose from close to 150,000 words. Today, it is estimated that the English language has about 600,000 words. Sadly, the English language used for business, called Globish, uses less than 500. What can we say with 500 words? Nothing important or complex, certainly. While we have no accurate count for the French language, the sad truth is that it is not immune to this vocabulary depletion either.
Those 500 words enable us only to buy, sell and find our way, nothing more. With this limited vocabulary, we cannot name and examine the nuances essential to resolving ethical issues.
Why this linguistic detour?
Because nothing exists without being named, and that naming enables identification and understanding leading to resolution.
This is why, to resolve ethical issues, before anything else, even before identifying solutions, we must be able to name the problem in order to grasp the entirety of the concept.
There’s the rub: how do we name accurately while our vocabulary is being gutted of its words and nuances in exchange for trendy words, approximations and generalities, even those connected to ethics?
When we speak of integrity, ethical infrastructure or values without clarifying the meaning or exact scope of these words, what are we talking about?
Ethics is a matter of culture: reducing it to elements devoid of meaning or without any connection to company culture is a mistake and is in itself one of the most egregious ethical failures.
In order to make ethics an asset, it is necessary to take the time to reflect and understand.
Only then can ethics be applied; otherwise, it becomes a show, pageantry or just a sham that can lead us in the wrong direction.