ETHICS AND ETIQUETTE

What is the relationship between ethics and etiquette or manners? Both etiquette and ethics help us to interact with each other. The key to etiquette is that, be it ethics or manners, it helps us to build stronger and better relationships with all the people in our lives.

At their most fundamental, ethics have a moral component. For instance, the person who steals someone’s lunch from the break room is not just committing a violation of manners. They are making a moral decision when absconding with what belongs to someone else, and they are doing it knowingly, intentionally. Similarly, taking a sick day when you really aren’t sick is a moral issue. Lying and cheating are moral issues rather than simply an issue of manners. All these moral choices are intentional actions. The unethical person chooses to act in a way contrary to a moral code; he is aware that the action is an improper one, but he chooses to do it anyway.

Manners, on the other hand, don’t have a moral component to them. Instead, manners are guideposts that help us to interact more successfully with those around us. There may be a correct or an incorrect way to handle a given situation, but there is no moral decision involved. In essence, manners tell us what to do and what to expect others to do as we interact. Holding a door for another person does not include a moral component. Neither does filling the paper tray in the photocopier when it is empty. The action is done simply because it is the considerate and respectful thing to do for another human being, not because there is any moral choice involved

Unethical behaviors are more likely to be intentional, whereas a lapse in manners is usually unintentional. For instance, manners tell us not to answer a smartphone while we are talking to a person face-to-face. Yet, people do break with this manner every day. The person answering the phone doesn’t do it to be rude; he does it because he has been programmed, in a previous context, to answer a phone when it is ringing. Manners and morals both involve the way we choose to act with each other and both underlie the very essence of etiquette. Etiquette is both mannerly and ethical, the daily practice of awareness and intentionality in our actions with others.

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