Are You at Moral Crossroads? [3 Steps to Resolve Ethical Conflicts]6 min read

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Our world can be cruel and wild, which makes keeping your morals challenging. Because in the attempt to engage with the world, we are often confronted with tough choices, and dilemmas leading to some sort of internal tension. In the case of our morals, it emerges as an ethical conflict.

“Ethical dilemmas have a way of sneaking up on a person. If something smells funny, stay away from it. Or help get rid of it.”

— Price Pritchett

What are Ethical conflicts?

It’s a struggle with ethical (moral) dilemmas. It often happens when you have to prioritize one (or more) options over another.

It tasks your mental prowess and emotional judgment. Under such duress, there is a high risk of making impulsive decisions or opting to follow the path that seems easier even if it’s wrong. 

Like an octopus, ethical conflict has diverse tentacles – So many factors to be considered. These questions need answers: “what’s the cause of the conflict?”, “who is involved, and why are they involved?”, “what’s the best choice of action?

Whatever the number and magnitude of the factors, it’s just one hell of a moral crossroad to deal with.  

For instance;

  • Struggling between the choice of engaging in illicit activities (e.g. Internet fraud) or enduring the pain of creating a genuine fortune from a humble background in a society that cares less about its people’s welfare. 
  • Some parents are loving and kind but can’t provide for their children hence they are forced to keep silent and watch their kids survive through unethical manners (e.g. Prostitution) since they don’t want their kids to suffer.
  • Lonely lovers who are far from their partners are “biologically compelled” to seek comfort from another who is close and loving even if it appears morally unacceptable. 
  • How about muffling your bedridden Dad with a pillow (because no one can foot the hospital bills anymore or watch him suffer unfairly)? Aka Euthanasia 
  • Would you report a friend to the authorities for malpractice or encourage him or her to stop, knowing fully well (s)he won’t manage a pass without cheating? 

“He knew taking money was wrong. His nannan had told him never to steal. He didn’t want to steal. But he didn’t have a solitary dime in his pocket.”

– Ernest J. Gaines

Why can’t I avoid ethical conflict?

Ethical conflict could occur in a variety of ways. So don’t assume for one second that you are immune to it – at the end of the day, we are all human. We are all hurdled by the unfair vicissitude of our world. For example, trying to do what’s good, yet, at the same, doing all that is necessary to survive.

Even if you manage to do what seems right or good, you are prone to commit unethical actions because… 

  1. The concept of right and wrong is NOT ingrained in you from birth. This means that unless you’ve been taught something to be wrong, you may never know it is wrong. For example, it may be okay to smoke cannabis in Canada, but unethical to do it in Nigeria.
  1. Often, making purely good choices is difficult, if not impossible, because sometimes paradoxes emerge (e.g Catch-22) and situations change, often. For example, is it better to abort the baby to save the mother, or let the baby kill the mother? Is the baby a murderer for killing the mom? 

“When we stop long enough to think about it, we realize that our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is a problem of priorities.”

– Charles E. Hummel

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The benefit of ethical conflict:

It is helpful to have some inner tensions in our moral system because they force us to reexamine our old beliefs to enrich the quality of our lives. However, resolving those conflicts does not necessarily eliminate all our problems but rather saves us from most self-inflicted suffering.

For example, though some felt okay, most people felt a moral conflict having slaves. After much internal conflict, they resolved that it was not ethical. Furthermore, they clearly explained their reasons to those who hadn’t come to the same realization. And, thanks to the radical explanations and actions of those with higher ethical standards, society became more ethical.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we want is for things to remain the same but get better”.

– Sydney J. Harris

To set the pace and upgrade societal moral standards you must learn how to resolve or at least manage (your internal) ethical conflict properly.

Here are some helpful steps to follow.

3 steps to resolve ethical conflict:

  1. Don’t deny the conflict: The situation must be acknowledged. Then, carefully gather the facts, and specify the dilemma. Afterward, create an alternate reality in your mind – a thinking process where your avatars roleplay all possible situations and factors. Analyze all logical courses of action, taking into account both the cluster of moralities and potential consequences. This should give you a fine start.
  1. Choose the alternative that offers the greater good (or the lesser evil):  Implement the best course of action from your avatars. Sacrifice the other options no matter how tough and painful they could be. This was exactly what I did when I decided not to join my friends in swindling on the internet. I sacrificed years of strong relationships and memories. Although I still love them and keep in touch, nevertheless a rift has been created.  
  1. Try to find a third solution: In some cases, the problem can be reconsidered if the circumstances change, which is often the case. So take a third sweep and evaluate your previous results of the action to find an improved choice. if there is none or if it’s unsuitable. Disregard it. Stick to what works. 

Recommended Content: Finding Harmony Within Chaos: 3 Steps to Resolve Your Internal Conflict.

My final thoughts on ethical conflict:

If we learn to embrace and find better solutions to our ethical conflicts, we end up building a better world.

In a nutshell, don’t ignore, or dismiss ideas that make you feel self-conflicted, rather observe, question, and learn from them; when you’ve grown up, leveled up, and stepped up your ethical game, teach others.

A mindful self-help writer and photographer

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