My Personal Ethical Framework

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           Developing an ethical framework isn’t easy. Keeping it is just as hard, if not more so. Some people use their gut instinct to choose the right course of action. Others rationalize their decisions by telling themselves that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. But like many of us, I tend to form and re-form my way of thinking. This includes my ethical intentions due to key moments within my lifetime. Those moments range from traumatic events to epiphanies from self-reflection. Therefore, I will define what an ethical framework is and how it is important to me. I will also describe my personal framework, explain how I came to use this model, and compare it to other theories presented in ethics textbooks. I will close with my last thoughts on ethical frameworks and their usefulness.

What Is An Ethical Framework?

           Ethics refers to standards of behavior that tell us how we ought to act. While it does not acknowledge the complexity of decision-making influences and processes that an individual goes through, it provides guidelines on how to engage with it. The foundation of this decision-making process lies in one’s personal ethical framework. Factors that influence this model can be age, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and upbringing. I regard childhood experiences as the most compelling determinant of one’s formation (or lack thereof) of a moral compass. I believe we form our sense of morality in our younger years regarding fulfilling what Maslow called our physiological needs, safety needs, and needs for belonging. It is how we treat others when we are young that generally affects how we treat ethical dilemmas.

How Religion and Upbringing Influenced My Ethics

           I don’t think I grew up in a typical Filipino home. While my mother was the standard conservative Catholic, my father was a liberal Protestant (Anglican). However, I remember going to both churches based on more social reasons rather than religious ones. It wasn’t until later that this fact would change my impression of organized religion. Before that time, I thought of myself as fully Catholic and would be so until the end of my life. Although I claimed to be Catholic, I wasn’t entirely comfortable thinking I was one.

          It wasn’t when I started going to college that my outlook began to change. The more “Christians” I met, the more various versions of worship and dogma I saw. When I joined the military, my experiences became broader as I met different nationalities, religions, and beliefs. It wasn’t until I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, that I started to build a more solid moral foundation to make my ethical decisions.

           I would like to say Virtue Ethics motivates my thoughts and actions. If an act strengthens moral character, then it is correct. Geert Hofstede would consider this moral belief as indicative of an individualist culture. In fact, among 76 developed countries, the United States ranks as #1.  While I emigrated from a generally collectivist country (the Philippines), I have fully immersed myself in American culture.  I believe in the values of self-reliance, autonomy, and looking after myself and my immediate family. However, that does not mean I base all my decisions on what Kohlberg calls the pre-conventional moral development stage.

How Military Service Shaped my Ethics

           The United States Air Force has ingrained in me powerful moral principles that will stay with me well beyond my service commitment. The most important lesson I learned and tried to use as much as possible when leading and mentoring my junior members is Prudence First, Justice Second. Prudence is defined as an intellectual habit of choosing the proper means to achieve worthy ends. Simultaneously, justice establishes and maintains the laws required for the common good and advancement in society.

          A remarkable but straightforward example is about dealing with a subordinate that’s late to work. You can waive a one-time occurrence with a warning, but repeated infractions are a problem. Technically, it is considered a violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Still, there’s no reason to reprimand or even correct the Airman’s negative behavior without discussing why she has been late more than once. She may have problems due to extenuating circumstances beyond her control. Counseling would be more focused on steering her in the right direction to improve her situation and prevent further transgressions.

          This principle mirrors Cultural Relativism’s theory and Kohlberg’s fourth moral development stage. I firmly believe that prudence before justice is the right thing to do within the United States Air Force’s rules. While military culture has profoundly affected my personal code of conduct, it has not done the same with my view of morality. I attribute a large part of my ethos to immersing myself in the Far East’s very different concept of religion, that of a more fluid and all-inclusive view. In Western religions, affiliation is absolute.

How Exposure to Other Cultures Changed My Moral Development

          It’s either your Christian or your Jewish. You can’t be both. In contrast, Eastern religions treat membership in more fluid terms. It’s perfectly normal for somebody from Korea or Japan to adopt Christian, Buddhist, and Confucian teachings but not identify with any or all of them. What matters is the rituals, the prayers (or meditations), and most of all, the ethics. I have learned to practice the precepts of benevolence and understanding from Buddhism, the moral guidance portrayed through the Bible’s gospels, and throwing coins and praying to my ancestors for prosperity in a Shinto (and Buddhist) shrine.

          Through this all-inclusive system of beliefs, I feel I can reach Kohlberg’s sixth stage of moral development and train myself to cultivate virtuous habits. My goal is to authentically make decisions that benefit myself, my community (military or otherwise), and my connection to the pursuit of achieving harmony with the world around me. This brings me back to how doing the right thing isn’t always easy.

           I believe my parents instilled a flexible outlook towards religion, albeit not the way they intended. Even though my dad was relaxed in his Christian beliefs, he encouraged me to be as devoted a Catholic as my mom. But as I saw more of the world and further understood human behavior, I felt I didn’t have to follow a particular set of rules to be a righteous person. But it’s an excellent place to start and build a foundation for your personal ethical decision-making framework.

1 comment

  1. Errol, what a great read. Thanks for sharing this piece or shall I say sharing you. As one of your many Filipino aunties “my instant label in our Filipino community” it’s inspiring to see your maturity, thanks again in your willingness to open your heart mind body and soul towards encompassing other realities that exist. It only takes a spark 🤩

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