There’s a big project underway at the Madison Collaborative. We’re currently piloting a new educational intervention called the Madison Collaborative Interactive. The MCI is a story that’s being told online in weekly installments, and the story’s plot is determined by the ethically reasoned choices made by its readers. Over two hundred students, including first year students in Dr. Tim Ball’s GCOM 121 class, are participating in this trial, and they are not only deciding the fates of the story’s characters; they are also crafting weekly responses to explain the reasoning behind their determinations.
During the MCI’s first week, readers were introduced to a young graduate who remains unnamed and ungendered as they’re starting their first day of work. Along with those absent descriptors, the story is told in the second person to encourage the audience members to put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes. Starting a new job is stressful in and of itself, but the protagonist must also decide whether or not to take a dear friend to an important doctor’s appointment. Out of the hundreds of responses, a few were selected as examples of good student responses to this dilemma:
It seems that there are two opportunities to explore: those being taking Cori to her appointment, and the after-work social. The two outcomes that are competing against one another are one, making a good impression on your new employers, and two supporting your ill friend. Even though arriving late would make a bad impression, that impression can certainly be improved upon at the after-work social where one can explain their situation to their employer. The inverse can also be adopted; one can abandon Cori and her appointment to arrive on time, but then skip the after-work social to spend with Cori. The former simply makes more sense because then both outcomes are achieved unless the employer is completely unreasonable. In addition, one can always email their employer ahead of time to explain their tardiness.
While abandoning Cori to arrive on time will yield the best short-term outcome for you, i.e. arriving on time and making a good impression, it will also result in Cori feeling hurt and neglected in the short term that could carry over into the long term. On the other hand, if your employer is exceedingly rigid then your tardiness could have lasting consequences for your future career. This whole situation depends on the temperament of each individual, would Cori understand being abandoned given your situation? Would your employer understand your situation with a terminally ill friend in combination with nerves?
You have an obligation to arrive at your new job on time; this is a written requirement for your position and should be followed. However, it is unreasonable to expect humans to function flawlessly like machines, people will be late occasionally, and experienced employers should recognize this reality or be unreasonable. You also have a relational obligation to Cori, as a friend you have agreed to help her in her struggles, and an unexpected cancellation like this could either have a good reception or one that damages the relationship.
It is possible that in this situation your employer would admire such a selfless act as risking your reputation to help a friend, selflessness may be a quality that you are expected to show in your work. Cori would also respond well to this, knowing that you acted out of compassion as opposed to self-preservation.
Ultimately the choice should lie with you, the consequences of your actions are what follow, [and] results have no impact on what is right and what is wrong. Freedom is not a huge issue in making this choice except for realizing that ultimately the choice is yours.
Your professional authority, i.e. your boss, expects you to arrive on time as part of your contract. However, contracts should not be inflexible to circumstances such as this – ultimately your employer must decide on how to judge your actions. Many religious authorities will expect you to make the selfless choice over the selfish one as well.
Your employer has the legal right to punish your tardiness – this is the only way that this aspect enters into the debate.
Personally, I would take Cori to her doctor’s appointment and be late. I would send an email to my employer before I left disclosing the reason that I am late and return as quickly as possible. I would then explain my situation to my employer when I did arrive at work and inform him as to the nature of Cori’s illness etc. Even if my employer reacted badly I would not regret my decision, in fact, I do not want to work for someone who would not understand that situation anyway, which I realize is a very easy statement to make sitting comfortably with my student status and not in the working world.”
“Fairness: There is no exact way in this situation for both people to have fair outcomes. One way that I can arrive to work on time and for Cori to get to the doctor is for someone else to be able to take Cori to the doctors. It is not the best way to solve the situation but it could work for both people.
Outcomes: The short-term outcomes if I take Cori to the doctors is I would be late to work and she would receive the help she needs. The short-term outcomes if I don’t take Cori to work is I would be on time on my first day which would be the appropriate thing to do at a new job and Cori would have to make another appointment. The long-term outcomes if I take Cori to the doctors is being late to work could possibly affect my position at the office and Cori would possibly get better from going to the doctor and receiving treatment.
Responsibilities: The responsibilities which I have as a new employee is to arrive on time and to do my work right. The responsibilities which I have as a friend is to help them when they are need and bringing Cori to the doctor would be one of them.
Character: The action which best reflects me as a person would be for me to bring Cori to the doctors because she is sick and in need. I am too nice to say no and care deeply about others. I would be able to handle the consequences at the office.
Liberty: I don’t think any of the three apply to this situation.
Empathy: I care about the ones around me and the people involved so I would take Cori to the doctors because she is sick and needs to be treated.
Authority: My religion expects me to do the right thing and to help others which would end with me bringing Cori to the doctors. My job would require me to arrive on time to my new job but I know they will understand.
Rights: Any legal rights would have to deal with work but I know I could work around them.”
“In the first episode of the Madison Collaborative series, a young man is on his way to his first day of work when he realizes he has forgotten about an obligation he had to his friend, Cori. Though he has everything planned out perfectly so that he will be on time to his first day of his new career, by the time he remembers that he promised to take Cori, who is suffering from multiple sclerosis, to her doctor’s appointment that morning, it would be impossible to fulfill his promise and still make it to work on time. Based on the concept of ‘outcomes’ in the 8 key questions, the student has to choose what course of action is the most ethical.
The concept of ‘outcomes’ poses the question, ‘what achieves the best short- and long-term outcomes for me and all others?’ This question is ethically complex because arriving late on the first day of a new job makes you look irresponsible and undependable. It is a big sacrifice to make yourself look bad and risk losing a new job that you have presumably worked hard to get and matters to you. However, friendship is less easily replaceable than a job, and the personal relationship the young man has with his friend Cori makes ditching her more hurtful. Beyond that, Cori has a chronic illness that requires medical attention. If you do not take her to her appointment, you could be seriously endangering her health. As a friend, how could you live with that? Finally, the young man created the situation he is in by forgetting about the appointment. It is no one’s fault but his own that he now has to make this difficult decision. It is unethical to make Cori suffer for his mistake. Therefore, the ethical course of action given the outcome that is best for you and all others is to live up to your own mistake and take Cori to her appointment, and consequentially be late to the first day of work. This is the decision that I would make, even though it is hard to sacrifice the prospect of a new career as a newly graduated college student. However, a person of strong character would recognize that they are responsible for the promise they made, and are equally responsible for forgetting about that promise. For that reason, I would choose to take Cori to her doctor’s appointment.”
Kudos to the students who composed these thoughtful responses as well as to all the students who are participating in this pilot. Everyone at the Madison Collaborative appreciates your diligent participation in this ongoing project!