Ethics, Self-Awareness, Compassion, and Ramblings at Midnight

Audre Lorde taught me to be vocal, and to translate my feelings into language. That I am tasked with something greater than just feeling my emotion(s).

“For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.”

It is by this this quote that I believe engineers need to hold themselves accountable for their decisions. I think about the time when I took Contemporary Ethics for Computer Science at UT. I remember thinking it as the most banal class ever. Everything was so boring and the professor shouted platitudes and cliches at the students. I recently peeked at some of my old essays and was surprised to find how highly analytical they were. How they examined the world from a critical perspective, questioning the morality behind computing decisions that software engineers tend to nowadays neglect. It sounds solipsistic, but what I’m trying to get at is that there was a point where I was more concerned with the ethics of my software choices.

Nowadays I’ve definitely compartmentalized a lot of these decisions or thoughts. Moments where people have been oppressed in the workplace, when I’ve been oppressed, or when morally gray decisions were made. To all those who I may have affected: I am sorry. Oftentimes engineers throw up their hands and cry foul when it comes to their programming choices. A lot of this has been the negative culture we’ve built around whistle-blowing. In fact, the term whistle-blowing itself has some negative vibe to it.

Similar to past psychological experiments, people do things when it involves a higher authority order. The fact is that change cannot happen from the bottom-up. It is simply too hard at this moment. Society has constructed a chain of command where people feel obligation towards superiors. The belief of superiors has made whistle-blowing movements difficult and somewhat precarious.

Therefore I propose a solution: To create an empathetic space where our superiors can communicate and debate effectively with their reports. If leaders aren’t willing to change their minds, or at least be open to criticism, then no change can happen. This involves all of us. It requires emotional effort and capacity. It won’t be easy.

2018 is a year where I planned to be true to myself. To speak up for things that I felt true to and at the same time, be receptive to criticism. I hope you feel the same way too.