We are confronted to act or react to different and complex situations (of which HIV and AIDS is a prime example) in our daily lives. To do this in a responsible and loving manner we need discernment. What better definition can there be than the words of Paul when he prays for the Philippians that their “…love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best …” (1:9-10)
Closely linked to this is the concept of ethics, which concerns itself with what is good or right in human interaction. It involves three elements, namely ‘good’, the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Each of these concepts forms a vital part of ethics. Ethical behaviour can be summarized as behaviour that considers not only what is good for others, but also what is good for the self.
Generally ethics comprises of five core principles:
- Standards for proper conduct (morality). Facts tell us how the world is. Ethical values tell us how an ideal and just world should be.
- Obligations. Ethics are concerned with doing our duty and keeping our obligations to others. Obligations can be specific – to honour a promise to a specific person for instance, or it can be general – not to harm others for example.
- Rights. Ethics involve rights that are claims or entitlements that other hold in respect of something against us, and these may correspond with our obligations. If, for example, we contract to deliver a service, the client holds an ethical and legal right to that service against us.
- Consequences. Ethics are about making the world a better place through the consequences of our actions, practices and institutions. The ‘ethics of consequences’ require us to promote good consequences (benefit) and prevent, remove or reduce bad ones (harm).
- Character. People are not robots who mechanically or without emotions adopt values, discharge obligations, respect rights and promote good consequences. Being an ethical person means that what we do, somehow, match externally who we are in the inside. Ideally, ethical actions flow from a virtuous person.
In the time of HIV and AIDS, after all is said and done, the acid test for our ethical attitudes and behaviours is whether it is based on abundant love. Only within in the context of love do ethics become humane and can we truly discern what is “best”.
To think about: How do faith communities respond to their members living with HIV and AIDS and promote responsible behaviour without being judgemental and moralistic?
Written by: Dr. Andre de la Porte, CEO, HospiVision and trained ‘Churches, Channel of Hope’ Facilitator.