Since childhood, we have been taught how to communicate. We were influenced by how parents and then others communicated with us. In our formative years (see the discussion of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Develop- ment in Chapter 6) parents tell us how to speak, how to address others, how to play fairly, and how to get along. We tell our students that if they ever want to see people truly practicing strict deontological universal ethics, they have only to observe the raising of young children. Parents routinely tell children that “Lying is always wrong,” and then confuse them later when the child answers a phone call from someone and hears the parent whisper, “Tell her I’m not home.” Adults instruct children how to treat others, how to communicate respectfully, and how to treat friends. And children do so because they have been told that is their duty. William Bennett writes: And, consequently, home is the place where we receive our first instruction in the virtues. It is our first moral training ground, the place where we can
Ethics in Interpersonal Communication 139 come to know right from wrong through the nurturing and protective care of those who love us more than anyone else. Our character takes shape under the guidance of the do’s and don’ts , the instructions, the exhortations we encounter around the house. . . In the familiar world of home and hearth, we learn the habits of virtue that will fortify us when we venture into the world. 2 While home and hearth may, indeed, fortify us, they do not guarantee us a life free of uncertainty, doubt, and the continuing need to rethink the early les- sons we were taught as children. As we get older the how to’s of treating others become increasingly fuzzy. We learn that in some cases it might be better to not be entirely forthcoming with a loved one (for example, “Honey, don’t you think I’m a really good dancer?”, “Sweetheart, does this dress make my thighs look fat?”). In some situations, we rationalize, perhaps it might be better if we do not share with others. Life becomes more complex as we grow older. Decisions become more diffi cult to make. We realize that not everyone shares our values. We make new friends, fall in love, some of us marry, start families, begin to deal with aging parents, and come to grips with our own mortality. The foundation of this chapter took shape in Chapter 5 (dialogical eth- ics). As we have stated earlier in this book, we believe that it is in dialogue with others that we begin to shape our ethical beliefs about interpersonal communication. As the lessons learned at age three begin to clash with our adult perspectives, interpersonal relationships highlight the ethical concepts of character and relationships. We turn first to an explanation of what we mean by interpersonal communication and then further explore its foundation.
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