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24 March 2014


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Thank you JP Richard for giving us a perspective here. Surely we can start with small and everyday things and actions before we scale the heights of some of the mammoth tasks that remain before us.

It is possible to live an ethical life! Personally, I think you just have to put a lot of effort and discipline into doing it for it to happen.

I designed a little practical exercise for myself in 2011. I adjusted my way of life and made a resolution to do one ethical action to one person or one living organism on the planet and by the end of the year I could have at least 300 goodies on my end-year review.

It's been three years since and my life has changed dramatically.

For example, when I approach a door to go in and there's someone coming out, it is more polite to let that person come out first before I go in, I'm just saying that's something I don't see much in PNG.

Thank you Dr Sepoe for adding to the discussions. I value everyone's comments. Very healthy indeed.

Well said, Orovu Sepoe - "We need more ethical legislators to make good/ethical laws to guide our behaviour and conduct --- because not all of us will agree on what is ethical and moral- at the personal, community, national and global level."

At the present moment in Australia, the Attorney General, George Brandis, is trying to work out what types of racial comments we can say and what would be considered hate speech.

He is proposing changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The public and the National Parliament will have plenty of time to debate the wording of these changes to the Act.

I think the PNG government needs a well educated Attorney General who is capable of writing good ethical laws that can be put in place to guide all PNG people, but especially those holding public office.

I guess there are already laws in place but from all the various types of bribery and corruption taking place it sounds that they may need revision and more publicity.

These laws need to cover personal, communal, business and national affairs in PNG today. Situations may have changed since the laws were first written. They may need to be updated. It would be good to hear the members of parliament debating them. Do they ever debate anything these days?

I like the discussion on ethics & thank John for his thought-provoking article.

The debate can go on and on, as it has for centuries with great philosophers/thinkers (mostly Western, because we came under their influence).

Whatever perspective one has reflects who you are and your interests. Ethics, however defined, will always be relative to the era/time period we live in, our experiences and our life choices.

And it makes sense (for me personally) to talk in terms of "more or less" than to claim a perfect ethical condition.

After all - we humans are a mixed lot - good and bad - more or less of one or the other! But in an era of "civilised society" in the new millennium, we just need to obey the rule of law - where ethical standards should be present.

But again, we need more ethical legislators to make good/ethical laws to guide our behaviour and conduct --- because not all of us will agree on what is ethical and moral- at the personal, community, national and global level.

Barbara and Michael - The norms and values of many traditional PNG societies were determined most probably by men, and the women probably lived and conducted themselevs within the bounds provided by those.

Even in traditional times, what worked well in one society may not have worked well for another, given our diversity.

Through this article, I am not suggesting that we throw everything out the window and accept something new.

All I have been trying to do was to make more sense of how relate to each other - through our decisions, actions and thoughts.

John, your own experience teaches you that despite the chronic ease by which civil authourity can forsake the ethical path; nonetheless, an individual can rise above that declension to choose the ethical path.

It is reasonable that a man furnished with the understanding arising from instruction / education can make right choices that result in life experience better suited to the stable governance of self, family, community.

Ultimately it must be an individual choice (whether affected by the grace of God or not) for if it is only a manner and custom born of institutional rote, it is usually open to compromise.

The personal conviction concerning ethics is more beneficially demonstrated than catechised.

We have a lot of say but little do in the general community as the vision of an ethical society you seem to have is often submerged beneath waves of corruption and greed.

Raising the subject is a good way of drawing out conversation among community members. When concerns for the issue spread abroad, and leaders arise with a want-to, people will respond affirmatively.

I guess that in these troubled times, hell may "freeze over" before ethics becomes the norm.

However, as Paul said to the Galatians, "Be not weary in well doing,for in due season you shall reap."

Michael - These debates and discussions are good. As you and Barbara have demonstrated, they can take us into many different directions on the topic of ethics.

While there are no agreed universal standards on ethics and values, there have always been in all societies, norms and values that can either bee good or bad or wrong or right.

People have always known something about what is generally wrong and right.

Yes I do generally agree that people are selfish, and it can be the reason for people coming to work, paying taxes, following the laws, conducting themselves...because as we can say it is for their own self-interests, but what about altruistic acts that some people display sometime in societies, even in ours that defy the general notion of selfishness.

Is altruism then in essence acts of self-interests? Are all acts or actions out of the selfish motives or actions?

Selfishness or better still self-interest can be an important factor in a lot of achievements, both for individual and society.

It may be early days yet, but I think we should start somewhere and promote something positive for us and our children and their children.

There must be some good in people, can we find that and appeal to their "better nature" if there is such a thing to begin to think ethically even if they are pursuing their self-interests.

I still want to tuck away a small ounce of believe in the good of humanity, that despite selfishness and self-interests as strong force for many achievements, there must be some good in some people do some good.

Very healthy discussion.

Barbara - I think there's a confusion between the 'norms' and customs of society and the moral principals to which a society may aspire. (Or may be it's just me?)

For example, in traditional PNG societies it was the norm for women to remain at home. The same situation existed in many parts of the world. And what would you know, that's almost unchanged today.

Different people have different customs about this fact: for Melanesians the role was recognised - in Western societies, for a very long time, it was belittled, often quite actively. Go figure.

But the ethics of it, the moral principal, is a different think altogether.

Where in ancient times, women were recognised as better able to provide the care and nurture that children and families needed and hence men took care of all the other stuff, fighting and politics etcetera.

The thinking was probably that this is the best way for us to progress: Men may argue politics, accumulate wealth, start fights with other tribes and get killed. But the important breeding unit and its progeny must survive so that the tribe lives on: enter women.

So the moral principal developed that 'a womans place is in the house'. Whatever.

Today women are guaranteed more freedoms.

Alright, that legislation exists on paper, but perhaps not in the pumkin-heads that you had to teach. It was not their 'norm', they had no 'cultural experience' of it and the 'moral principal' did not exist in their thinking - i.e. that women can contribute to society in places other than the boundary of home and family life.

Melanesian men have had to walk over a long trail of ethical changes on a short, very contracted historic strole. It's no wonder we're confused!

And the Melanesian women too, although I believe they are a little bit smarter about todays ethics because it offers them a more favourable situation than before.

What you probably experienced Barbara, was not lack of ethics, but poor ethical thinking. Your students were unequipped to 'think' about the new paradigms that they were faced with in school.

But you soon fixed that, right?

Did you assume that in the traditional society of highlanders it would be unethical for a woman to join the men in discussions?

I don't think that is true. Rather I think that it was the norm and that we had built a culture around it.

Is it wrong or right and does it have moral value to prohibit women from entering mens debates? Probably not.

Since even in traditional societies women would still be able to have their say outside of the 'area where the men spoke'.

And is that immoral or unethical?

We can beat it like a dead horse now, but it did work for a while, give of take a few centuries, about 50,000 years.

Michael and John, I remember back to my days at Keravat NHS and the forums when the highland boys got up to criticise the female students. As far as their ethics went, the girls should have not been there. They should have been getting married and be back in the village gardens.

So the traditional attitudes to women in PNG were, from my point of view, unethical. I had a good sermon to give the boys on this topic.

Then there were the times when students had some grievance and turned for their wantoks for support, even though they might have been in the wrong. I think unethical tribal fights did take place at times

Now we have these unethical people stealing from the government and taking bribes and wanting government contracts from their wantoks in power even though they cannot do the job.

Back in the village where everyone knows the rules, the average village person may be ethical most of the time. Meanwhile in the cities, in the formal economy, where people may know the rules, they seem to be often breaking them, especially if they think they can get away with it. I wonder why? Are they unethical?

'Choices...ultimate choices, and...what determines...,' them.

John, I don't agree that people are innately good. I think we're innately selfish. Which is not exactly 'bad' nor ethically wrong either.

Isn't that why we value selfless sacrifice, because it goes entirely against the grain of our selfish human psyche?

I think ethics is a tool that helps naturally selfish people live together more cooperatively, requiring sacrifice of selfish mentality and relatively more peacefully than would be in a world where people do and take whatever they want.

I also think that the ethical standards we have are just that; standards. We have people or instances of poor ethics or of good ethics.

That's why you suggest that not only educated or intellectual people are ethical, which would be like saying that highly intelligent people are less selfish - non-sense!

My suspicion is that we are confused about the ethical standards acceptable to us today because of the underlying and as yet intangible changes happening in our Melanesian society, our culture and particularly in the leadership of and cohesion in our communities.

Do we reach back to our separate ancestors for wisdom? Do we accept foreign or new fangled ideologies? Or do we look in the now and here, to see what our people need, how we want to live today and where we want to ho tomorrow?

I think we'll find that our idea of ethics and ethical behaviour is in many ways the same as those in the past and those of elsewhere too.

But what kind of ethics do we unwittingly proclaim?

We have moved mountains and dug deep into this earth to find gold
To exchange for paper notes, while burying our brothers in filth;
We call development, the trenches dug between us for wealth.

Hi Michael

Thanks for your comments.

I guese, if we look closely ethical issues and considerations confront us all the time: whether it to do with our relationships with each other, the environment or decisions regarding the power and responsibilities we have - whether through public office or in the communities.

What I am concerned about is the choices we make, especially the ultimeate choices we make, and what determine these chocies.

Thanks for that contribution.

Do we need ethics? Do we need to live ethical lives?

Perhaps a better question is, do we need ethical people; people who aspire to do what is good, just and right for themselves and for other people in their community; people who do their best to obey the laws of the land, those that bind us and provide the borders against wrong, unjust and lawless behaviour?

Then the answer is simple: yes we do.

Does it then follow that we have Obama's 'Yes we can'?

Keith - Good point there!

Even appearing to be behaving ethically in some cases may be deceptive, if the motives and intentions are not clearly stated or known...or even ulterior motives are behind some of the actions.

So ethics is not only about the actions but motives too in many cases.

Reasonable people should aspire to treat others as they would like others to treat them. I think the good book supports that (Matthew 7:12). That would be a very good start to teaching poeple ethics!

What about the ultimate choices people have to make, and what would influence these choices...whether these choices are to do with relating to one another or the environment?

Thank you Phil and Barbara.

Firstly I agree that it is easy to say what is ethical than to live it out.

What is considered ethical can even be 'contested'

I am not so sure whether one needs to be educated and civilised to observe ethical principles, because in this country many unethical and corrupt practices are being nurtured and promoted among some of the educated elites - white collar and blue collar crime for instance.

I decided to write this article because I have observed that the dominant thinking in this country is that you must bend and break rules, manipulate the system once you are in to appear successful.

I also point out in the article that many people are living ethical lives already.

Ethics should be more than right and wrong. It should be a way of life...but I am still struggling to grapple with the thoughts whether we should follow an evolutionary path.

I also ask the question: Do we need ethics in PNG? and whether there is hope at all of getting more people to live ethical lives.

I wish that many Papua New Guineans give their feedback on this topic.

Being ethical is a bit like being civilised, you have to work at it. I can't recall who pointed this out but suppressing natural urges is a big part of it.

Men seem to have more trouble with the latter than women because of their natural aggression borne of having to fight to spread their genes. Although I've met some pretty savage women too.

In our modern society one of the most difficult things to suppress is greed and avarice. To be ethical one has to work hard against this natural urge.

Ironically, the realisation that material possessions and wealth are ultimately worth zilch only comes to the elderly when they begin to review their lives. And nobody listens to elders these days.

Although behaving ethically can be deceptively easy: as easy as saying that, as a reasonable person, I will treat them as I would like to be treated myself - KJ

Thank you, John. I would like to be a pupil in your classes. I think I would stay behind afterwards and have lots of great discussions with you!

I had a great lecturer in Economics at Sydney University, Dr H.D. Black. (Hermann David) Teaching, he believed, was intended less to instil knowledge than to develop the intellect.

The lecturer, he observed, `displays the processes of his own reasoning’. What was taught was `not conclusion, but how to reason’. I hope I did likewise during my teaching career.

His first-year introductory course to Economics was widely acclaimed and he was admired for infusing human values and colour into the `dismal science’. I loved his stories about the times he had met famous economists of the past.

Although he produced numerous papers and addresses, he was interested less in research and publication than in applying economic theory to practical issues. Even as a young child in primary school I had loved to listen to his ABC program "The World We live In".

I'm glad to see you are keen on Adam Smith. I often used his stories in my lessons including the one on how to make a pin more efficiently with division of labour!

This topic of ethics gets a lot of mention on PNG Attitude. I'm sure that the PNGian does know right from wrong but it is the cultural mores, that lead him down the unethical wrong path, that have to be got rid of- rausim olgeta dispela samting no gut!

Equal rights for women! Love thy neighbour, even the man in the next tribe. Do not steal money that is meant for the common good. etc etc etc

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