A Child’s Lesson in Ethics Looking back on my upbringing, I remember the practical guidance my parents imparted to me: look both ways before crossing the street, don’t talk to strangers, NEVER run with scissors. These pearls of wisdom still resonate with me and I practice them almost religiously. In addition, my parents gave me advice regarding communication: think before you speak, if you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything, say what you mean and mean what you say.
What I wasn’t old enough to understand then but realize now, is that my parents were introducing me o the concept of ethical communication. In The Art of Public Speaking, author Stephen E. Lucas states “Speechifying is a form of power and therefore carries with it heavy ethical responsibilities. “l There are several guidelines to follow to ensure sound ethics in speech. A Speaker’s Guidebook identifies respecting the audience as one of the critical obligations speakers have to their audiences.
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The authors describe respect of the audience this way: “… [R]aspect the audience by refraining from verbally attacking them, avoiding ethnocentric remarks, making stereotypes and using hate speech. There are several famous (and infamous) speeches that disregard this important obligation. The 1963 inaugural address of Governor George Wallace, delivered at the Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama stands out as an example of this type of unethical speech for its emphatic use of both ethnocentric remarks and hate speech.
In the 1962 campaign leading up to his election, Wallace ran on a platform supporting racial segregation and attributed his win to that position. He believed it was important to demonstrate that as governor he would keep his commitment to the voters to fight against the integration of Alabama. Averaged his inauguration speech to deliver that message: “Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people… In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny… ND I say… Segregation now… Segregation tomorrow… Segregation forever. “3 Although this speech was embraced by his supporters, many desegregation proponents considered Wallach’s speech as “indefensibly racist and demagogic. “4 Civil rights demonstrators marched in Alabama in opposition to Wallace and his policies of segregation. His words were seeking to end racial discrimination. “6 It can be surmised that these reactions were directly related to use of ethnocentric remarks and hate speech in his address.
I believe that the reaction to this speech if given today, would be equally (if not more) popularizing and considered unethical by a society that is still marching for equal rights among all people and unity in the war against racism. Wallace eventually embraced segregation and came to regret his famous phrase: “l didn’t write those words about segregation now, tomorrow and forever. I saw them in the speech written for me and planned to skip over them. But the wind-chill factor was 5 below zero when I gave that speech. I started reading Just to get it over and read those words without thinking.