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We often hear the expression “unethical” or “no ethics”. In contemporary non-formal language, this expression is more familiar with the term “no morals” or other expressions with similar meaning. Moreover, currently, the issue of ethics are becoming a hot topic of discussion in the country. 

Ethics is not only personal, but also institutional, which is codified into an institutional code of ethics. Currently, almost all recognized professions in the world have a system of ethics code of conduct, including in Indonesia. For example, the Journalism Code of Ethics, the Advocate Code of Ethics, the Medical Code of Ethics, and the Indonesian Teacher Code of Ethics. 

However, everyone has their own views on how important ethic is. There are those who take it lightly, who consider their position to be normal, but there are also those who consider ethics to be something that must be upheld. Of course, these differences in views are influenced by the meaning of ethnic itself. 

Understanding what ethic is does not seem to be an easy job. Moreover, there is a similar term, namely etiquette—usually this word is simply confused with the term ethics. Not to mention, it is often associated with the terms character, morals, even morality and is used interchangeably so it is often confusing. 

The Position of Ethics

Sometimes, ethics are defined as good manners. Actually, this definition is actually more appropriate to explain etiquette, not ethics. Even though they both have roots in English, ‘ethics’ and etiquette’, these two things are not the same. Moreover, looking at the clearly different nature of the two, namely that etiquette is relative, while ethics is absolute. Equating the term ethics with etiquette and interpreting is as something relative may be the reason why some people consider ethics to be something ordinary or even to be something trivial.

In Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (KBBI) VI, ethics are defined as the science of what is good and bad; and about moral rights and about morals (akhlak). Based on this meaning, ethics does not function in a casual atmosphere, but has a serious context because it is a science. This was also confirmed by Prof. Dr. Juhaya S. Praja in the Preface of his book entitled Aliran-Aliran Filsafat dan Etika (2003), “Human actions are greatly influenced by ethical schools that they understand so that studying ethics is considered very useful for understanding how humans act.”

Kees Bertens, an Indonesia ethic figure, in his book entitled Etika (2007: 6) prioritizes a more basic and sharper definition of ethics. He explained that ethics are the value of right and wrong held by group or society. Ethic can be used to mean moral values and norms that guide a person or group in regulating their behavior. In short, this meaning can also be formulated as a value system and can function in human life, both individual and at the social level (code of ethics).

In the books, Bertens clearly distinguishes differences between ethics and etiquette. “Etiquette is relative. What is considered impolite in one culture, may be considered impolite in another culture. […] It’s different with ethics. Ethic is much more absolute. ‘Don’t steal’, ‘don’t lie’, ‘don’t kill’, are ethical principles that can’t be negotiated or easily given ‘dispensation’. 

For certain societies, exp. Western society, ethics has its own place, especially in the political realm. Ethics are strictly adhered to even though they understand that breaking ethics does not always mean breaking positive law. Because of that, it is not uncommon to see public officials there resigning from their position after previously violating ethics. This habit stems from the belief that democracy is not enough to be built only on positive law, but also on ethical principles.   

So, how important are ethics to a person? Depends on how deeply he/she understands ethics itself. Back to each perspective. What is clear is that interpreting is a thinking activity so that the perpetrator can’t be bullied, prohibited, and let alone punished. Indonesia is a democratic country, so it should uphold freedom of thought which is the basic right of every Indonesian human being. 

However, of course there are consequences. Moreover, if in context of nation. What is our collective choice regarding ethical position, that will later become our ethical identity that will be known.

For example, Japanese people everywhere always value cleanliness. The action to clean the stadium in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup tournament was carried out by Japanese fans voluntarily. Although actually there are no rules violated by the Japanese national team fans if they leave rubbish in the stands. Likewise, there is no rule that requires Japanese national team players to leave the dressing room as clean and tidy as when they first entered it. However, that is their own choice, a choice that makes them known, even used as role models in terms of maintaining cleanliness. 

Translator: Ratna Safitri
Writer: Teuku Zulman Sangga Buana
Indonesian Editor: Dewanti Nurcahyani

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