Purposive Communication.docx

Suppose that a fully truthful response could prove

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asks questions regarding her performance at a concert the previous evening. Suppose that a fully truthful response could prove painful to the friend. There are many means available to avoid hurting the Other in such circumstances. Among these means are lies or other more subtle forms of deception. For reasons to be outlined later, however, these means are inherently ethically suspect. In contrast, pursuing compassionate and caring means to sharing the information truthfully in such circumstances promises to foster connection, mutual trust, respect, and understanding, thereby facilitating fulfillment of communication's constructive potential. The centrality of means to ethical communication is especially evident in studies of social movements. Historically, pursuits of social justice in the face of tyranny and oppression have taken many forms. Some means— such as “random” violence, demonizing the Other, and hate speech—have been shown to be inherently ethically suspect. Addressing this issue, prominent global leaders in the pursuit of social justice such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, César
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Chavez, and Martin Luther King have noted that the means are the ends in the making (Boss, 2003; Makau & Marty, 2001). This discussion of means and ends leads to exploration of a third, related element of ethical communication: The consequences of one's choices matter deeply. Thus far, the focus has been on “good” intentions and ethical means. However, even the most noble intentions and ethical means have the potential to cause harm. Consider, for example, the case of a journalist seeking to uncover abuses of power and using truthful means to convey the information. In such a case, the journalist can be said to be using ethical means (conveying information truthfully) in an effort to pursue noble ends (transparency, accountability, and justice). At the same time, however, innocent people could be gravely imperiled as a result of the journalist's revelations, particularly if the abuses uncovered by the story take place in an environment of “unchecked” power. Before publishing the story, the journalist has the responsibility to consider the likely consequences of the publication, especially to the most vulnerable members of the community. Given the complexity of life's circumstances, predicting such consequences with certainty is impossible. The responsibilities associated with moral agency do not require the ability to prophesize in this way. However, responsible exercise of moral agency does require thoughtful consideration of the circumstances, particularly from the standpoints of all relevant stakeholders; moral agents have a responsibility to anticipate likely consequences as a part of their deliberations. In sum, then, ethical communication across contexts requires attentiveness to at least the following: one's intention, the means used to fulfill these ends, and the likely consequences of one's choices. Even within these parameters, however, differentiating more or less ethical communication pathways is often difficult. Each set of circumstances is unique, and often the most ethical choice is not readily apparent. A number of
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  • Fall '16
  • Jeff Smith

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