Teaching ethics is challenging because children are not born with an absolute sense of right and wrong. They sometimes learn from their parents and peers that things can be relative. Something that is right in one situation or culture can be wrong in another. Lived experience is required to make decisions based on a common core or beliefs. We all belong to a group such as a demographic that is established by our age, sex, ethnicity, and region of residence. Religion and the corresponding ethics also come into play when populations are studied. One tricky issue that seems to vary from group to group is what constitutes the “best” of something.

The best has implications universally as the desirable quality of being superior. It implies that an object or situation stands out among others and is an exemplar to uphold. The best of something in a particular field or category is at the very top of the status ladder and is something that most people seek to achieve unless they have low self-esteem. There is great pride in being called the best or owning the best of a coveted object such as a car. An automobile is a ubiquitous status symbol and people pay more than they need to acquire one. You can get around just fine in a Ford but you may feel that you merit only a Mercedes.

My class determined that the best is hard to achieve and maintain. Let’s say you are a track and field athlete. You want to beat the averages and then the top time. Most athletes, however great, cannot maintain this position as “the best.” Age and time take their toll. A car can go out of fashion and lose its status. Being the best may therefore be a sometime thing. Take a review of the best circular saw. If it meets certain criteria, it can be called the best. It will have to show good design, perform accurately, and maintain functionality for a long period of time. While many such tools can be characterized in this way, the best will have to go beyond. Then you need to ask, who decides on “the best?” Is it a consensus of opinion or does one expert get to determine who or what has this status? Just because someone writes an Internet review calling a given object the best doesn’t mean that there aren’t other opinions. Hence, determining the best can be difficult from an ethical perspective. Can just anyone deem themselves an expert? In ancient Greece, there were philosopher kings. We don’t have any ethical archetypes now. We accept what we read as the gospel truth when we should be making our own decisions.

Let’s agree on one thing: “the best” is not an absolute that has perfect agreement. It seems to be relative to a smaller sphere. In terms of the circular saw, this sphere consists of users, manufacturers, and purveyors of the item. It is interesting that in the world of human behavior, ethics is more universal. What is acceptable and what is the “best” has long been established by bodies of truth such as the Judeo-Christian tradition.