Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do? Ethics.

I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:

“What would you do if…”.

The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Often it’s an ethical question.

Remember that ethics is not about right and wrong; right and wrong is about morals and a moral question is usually pretty easy to answer.

Should I steal this or not?

Easy answer. Um, no.

Should I punch that audist jerk or not?

Ok, maybe that’s not so easy to answer.

But, with right and wrong it’s usually easy to spot what you should do and then pick that over what you may even want to do.

But ethics, ethics are different. With ethics it’s never a question of right or wrong-it’s a question of wrong and wrong. Ethics helps us decide which action is most wrong and which is least wrong (and then morals kick in to help us go with that decision).

If you think about it, the old guidelines for interpreters were called The Code of Ethics, but the tenets thereof bled over into morality. The newer guidelines are called The Code of Professional Conduct and openly embraces both the moral and ethical sides.

So, what do you do when you have an ethical decision in front of you and don’t which path leads to the least wrong choice?

Well. There is no one answer that applies to every situation all the time (true! but unhelpful). So I approach most ethical dilemmas this way:

First, what does the CPC say and how closely can I adhere to it whatever I decide to do? Second, can I articulate the reason I am making the choice I make.

That second part is key.

Because, even if everything works out, if you can’t explain why you did what you did then you did not make an ethical choice-you made a lucky stumble and, because God protects fools and drunks, you got away with it. (As my sister says, “never confuse luck for skill”)

Make a choice you can explain and, even if another interpreter says they would have made a different choice, if you can explain why you chose what you chose it’s hard for anyone to argue that you made the wrong choice.

Make a choice. Articulate the reason for that choice. Own that choice. Done.

“Yes,” I hear you saying, “we all know our Demand-Control Schema, but what about issues that aren’t about ethics? The day to day stuff? Like how do I make sure I get paid or prepare for an assignment that scares me or deal with a teacher that seems to resent me being in her classroom or…”

The answer to most of these questions come down to common sense. Don’t take that to mean that the answers are somehow simple.

Common sense is never simple. It is said that sense is not, and never has been, common.

I’m not avoiding these questions, they just deserve their own Notes and so I will give them what they deserve.

Last point here though, training.

In the mythology of Star Trek there is a test given to all potential starship captains called, “The Kobayashi Maru.” It is an exercise designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario.

We need to test out ethical skills in the same manner. Too often we want there to be a right answer, however, to really understand our ethical core there just can’t be. We must be able to face the no-win ethical dilemma in practice to be able to deal with the actual ethical dilemmas we will face in the field.

“A theatre troop comes to town and holds a three day workshop for the local high school drama classes. Several Deaf students attend and you are hired to interpret for them.

One of the Deaf students, who will be 18 the day after tomorrow, seems to be getting special attention from one of the directors, a man of at least 35 years.

At the end of the day you see her tell the friend she rode with to the workshop that her mom is picking her up so she doesn’t need a ride home. She then has you interpret for a call to her mom saying she is going over to that same friend’s house, the one who just left, for the night and riding back to the workshop with her in the morning.

She then asks you to interpret for a conversation with the director. The director tells her she has a special talent and he would like to work with her more closely back at his hotel room. This student has filed complaints against two other interpreters for what she felt was offering their opinions in violation of the CPC.”


(Does it change your answer if the workshop ended at 6:30 and she will be 18-year-old at midnight tonight?)

Rule 637

“It was just that one time…”

Unethical behavior is like a mouse in your house. If you see one there are many many more there, you just haven’t seen them yet.

Rule 615

Making ethical decisions in a vacuum is like getting lost and only asking yourself for directions.

This is a combination of the Wit and Wisdom of two people, Xenia Fretter and one other reader who asked not to be named. Thanks to both!

Rule 575

Today I replaced the fly-wheel and belt on my swamp cooler.

Where did you learn how to do that?

(Crap) Um, you know, you pick things up… where does anyone learn to do anything…?

Rule 574

If the only reason you didn’t… is because you believe the Code of Profession Conduct says you shouldn’t, you need to get a better handle on “ethics.”

Rule 572

Interpreting is like cooking.

“Food” is not cooking. “Signs” are not interpreting.

Interpreting has as much to do with your hands as cooking has to do with a plate.

Both happen in the mind and heart. What you see and hear, like what you taste, is the product not the process.