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I have doubts (on ethical grounds) about taking on a certain assignment
Thread poster: Aleksandra Mazur-Bryla

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:05
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
A firm belief in ethics is critical to our profession Feb 25, 2012

keshab wrote:
In no way I would express my ethical barrier to the client because it would be unprofessional.

Maybe it is inconvenient, but never unprofessional. Surely our customers love to know that they are working with people who have ethic values, even if they mean some extra hassle finding another translator for some particular job.

[Edited at 2012-02-25 10:26 GMT]


 

opolt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:05
English to German
+ ...
Making the distinction Feb 25, 2012

Valerie35 wrote:

opolt wrote:

And I mean, who (in the western world anyway) has not cheated his/her girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband once?


I haven't. While many people do cheat, I nevertheless find your point of view a bit bizarre - kind of like, "Hey, who hasn't stolen money once in a while."

[Edited at 2012-02-25 09:43 GMT]


Good for you if it has never happened to you. But I think it's a very normal thing; it has always happened and always will. In many cases, it's not "cheating" at all but it just happens. It poses many ethical and emotional problems, that's for sure, but it's normally an affair between two or three persons and thus a very different question in ethical terms. It's not in vain that most countries have made provisions to allow divorce, etc.

With eavesdropping, or spying or whatever you call it, it's a bit different. IMHO, it goes against the very basics of how society functions. I.e. humans have to rely on some degree of basic trust everywhere, because they can't exist without interacting with other humans. This is about the very fabric, about things like air, you can't live without it (that's why you don't notice it most of the time -- only when you can't breathe anymore). So no, I don't condone stealing, quite the contrary. Spying is on the same level: "Don't steal -- don't spy on others." That's at least how I see it.

We all know that in real life, things are often much more complicated. That's why the question has arisen after all. But from my point of view, one has to be clear in one's mind what this is all about: undermining or misusing or intruding in the basic trust between persons, eavesdropping on private conversations through a third party who in turn employs a fourth party to have it translated. Trying to win the love of a person by proving that (s)he is loving another one, or trying to exert power over that person by proving that (s)he doesn't love you anymore.

No. It's not a coincidence that it leaves a bad taste (as some have pointed out in this thread) even when you are involved as a third party only.

Of course, someone else may take the job and it'll get done anyway. So what? If you do a good thing, you feel good and are proud and satisfied afterwards, and rightly so. But if you do a bad thing, you will feel bad.

So, how do you want to feel today?







[Edited at 2012-02-25 11:05 GMT]


 

Valerie35 (X)
Local time: 03:05
German to English
Jedem das Seine Feb 25, 2012

B D Finch wrote:
Reading the replies to this posting, I find the suggestion in some of them that ethics are unprofessional very disturbing. Should we just translate what we are paid to translate however harmful that may turn out to be for any particular individual or for society as a whole?


It seems to me that your ethics as a translator would involve making absolutely sure that the translation is as close as possible to the original meaning.

If you don't want to translate a police wiretapping report, as an example, because you think it's intrusive, great. Don't do it.

Someone else may think that the police wiretapping report should specifically BE translated because it will help society. Great. He should translate it.

But the latter two sentences involve your own personal opinion, not some overarching "ethics" that translators supposedly have to abide by.

One point of view is that the more information there is about a topic, the better. That's why there are "sunshine laws" and freedom-of-information requests and all the rest. The opposing point of view is that censoring viewpoints and covering up information is better. Whatever.

In the end, the decision not to translate something you personally find repugnant is your own personal decision that does not need to involve drama and a wringing of hands as to what others would do. Just don't translate it - no Justice for All (cue Al Pacino) speeches necessary.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:05
Hebrew to English
Perspective Feb 25, 2012

First of all, I agree completely with Valerie35.

Secondly, I think we can all agree that cheating is wrong, at the very least it's ethically dubious...in that I think most of us share broadly the same cultural attitude to infidelity... (although this isn't a universal ethic - some cultures either embrace or tolerate polygamory and the boundaries of infidelity vary across cultures).

So, in this particular case, by refusing to do the translation, wouldn't you in effect be
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First of all, I agree completely with Valerie35.

Secondly, I think we can all agree that cheating is wrong, at the very least it's ethically dubious...in that I think most of us share broadly the same cultural attitude to infidelity... (although this isn't a universal ethic - some cultures either embrace or tolerate polygamory and the boundaries of infidelity vary across cultures).

So, in this particular case, by refusing to do the translation, wouldn't you in effect be complicit in perpetuating the cheating?

Surely, if you believe a certain practice is wrong (cheating), isn't it in your beliefs to expose such distasteful goings-on?

I also agree this is more to do with beliefs/preferences than ethics. I don't believe in religion, so I would never translate anything remotely related to it. It's nothing to do with ethics, I have no problem with religion on an ethical level (i.e. I don't believe religion is either "right" or "wrong"), I just don't agree with it so would steer clear of anything to do with it.

[Edited at 2012-02-26 07:52 GMT]
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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:05
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
You do you job as a translator Feb 26, 2012

and loyally translate what is going on. You don't need to get involved with anything else. period.

 

Marina Steinbach
United States
Local time: 21:05
Member (2011)
English to German
What do I think as an experienced translator? Oh well, … Feb 26, 2012

Aleksandra Mazur-Bryla wrote:

I am in a process of establishing my own business as a freelance translator in the UK and have been approached recently to translate some written and recorded communications between two alleged lovers for someone who thinks that their girflriend is cheating on them... I am interested to hear your thoughts on how to approach this subject. Personally, I feel that I don't really want to get involved in a situation like this, especially not knowing how these conversations have been obtained... but maybe there is another way of looking at it... What do you think as an experienced translator?


What do I think as an experienced translator? Oh well, …

If your client is normally able to communicate with his girlfriend, why does he need to have her written and recorded ‘communications’ translated? This seems rather strange to me.


 

Nani Delgado  Identity Verified
Germany
German to Spanish
There is nothing strange in this Feb 26, 2012

Marina Steinbach wrote:

If your client is normally able to communicate with his girlfriend, why does he need to have her written and recorded ‘communications’ translated? This seems rather strange to me.


If I was cheating on my german partner with a spanish guy, he would also need some translation, since his spanish is not that good. But no, I have no intention to do that, I´m very happy with him.

Back to topic: There is nothing like "good or bad" in this situation. We know nothing about the persons involved and the reasons why each of them did what they seem to have done (spying, cheating on the other... what is worse, etc.?), it is not on me to judge anyone when it comes to a job (but I have to say that I was never asked to do something similar). You are not a worst translator or person if you refuse the job, nor are you if you accept it. Just follow your feelings and you´ll make the best decision for you.

*Edited for typo, well... the only one I was able to catch.*

[Edited at 2012-02-26 19:46 GMT]


 

keshab  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:35
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
SITE LOCALIZER
Ethics vs. Profession Feb 26, 2012

Aleksandra Mazur-Bryla wrote:

I am in a process of establishing my own business as a freelance translator in the UK and have been approached recently to translate some written and recorded communications between two alleged lovers for someone who thinks that their girflriend is cheating on them... I am interested to hear your thoughts on how to approach this subject. Personally, I feel that I don't really want to get involved in a situation like this, especially not knowing how these conversations have been obtained...


Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

keshab wrote:
In no way I would express my ethical barrier to the client because it would be unprofessional.

Maybe it is inconvenient, but never unprofessional. Surely our customers love to know that they are working with people who have ethic values, even if they mean some extra hassle finding another translator for some particular job.



Ethics and professionalism are not rivals but when a job of certain profession comes and personal thinking of ethics emerges in front of work, the whole matter may tend to be unprofessional. Surely our customers are not unethical. We expect that they will not assign such a job which is harmful to society or country or mankind. But when they need to translate a document important for their profession, how it is possible to rate it unethical? In present case, the job may come from lawyer’s office (actually this type of conversation or letter is required by lawyers to file suit on behalf of their clients) and the translator should help lawyers’ profession by his/her profession. In such case, what will be the reaction of the client if he got the reply ‘Dear Sir, I am unable to do this job because it seems unethical to me’? He/she will think nothing except that the translator is an unprofessional.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:05
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Soldiers Feb 26, 2012

keshab wrote:
Ethics and professionalism are not rivals but when a job of certain profession comes and personal thinking of ethics emerges in front of work, the whole matter may tend to be unprofessional.

Not at all. Think of a soldier for instance. A soldier might be trained to kill the enemy, but he or she must be morally convinced that his or her killing makes sense. If a general said that raping local women or killing children was part of the job (a tactic used in history because it creates a terror factor in the population and improves the chances of winning the war), do you think that refusing to obey such orders would be unprofessional for a soldier? Of course you would never expect your own general to command you to do such horrible things, and yet it has happened in recent history.

A soldier must be morally convinced that he or she is using weapons against actual enemies and threats and not innocent people, the same way a translator must be morally convinced that his work is a benefit for mankind and not the opposite. We are not machines, and cannot take off our ethics for our working day and put it on again in the evening.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:05
Hebrew to English
Limits of knowledge... Feb 26, 2012

The trouble is we can't always know completely that our work is always for the "benefit of mankind" (a bit grandiose, no?). Or even if, on the face of it, it is - then it might have unforeseen negative side-effects/consequences.

For example, I might agree to translate some technical manuals for the construction of "Green Energy" generation, Wind Turbines - for the sake of argument. Great. But then they go and build a load of wind turbines along the Welsh coast, displacing local resi
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The trouble is we can't always know completely that our work is always for the "benefit of mankind" (a bit grandiose, no?). Or even if, on the face of it, it is - then it might have unforeseen negative side-effects/consequences.

For example, I might agree to translate some technical manuals for the construction of "Green Energy" generation, Wind Turbines - for the sake of argument. Great. But then they go and build a load of wind turbines along the Welsh coast, displacing local residents or causing other unpredictable events - very indirectly perhaps, but I have played my part in that.

The truth is that we don't always know what our clients are going to ultimately do with our translations, we don't know how they came upon the information contained in the translations, we don't know the long term motives/agenda....

In addition, ethics are not universal. My ethics are different to yours. Heck, my ethics are different from my own parents, my friends. There's nothing wrong with having ethics, everybody does. The issue comes with imposing your ethics on others or showing your disdain with another's ethics (which is what ends up coming across as unprofessional).

If you want to turn down project "X" because it involves "Y", fine. But if you want to maintain a professional façade, then be diplomatic and don't let the client know it's because you find Y distasteful.
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Nani Delgado  Identity Verified
Germany
German to Spanish
. Feb 26, 2012

@Ty: I really enjoy reading your contributions (sorry, my English is not very good and I couldn´t find a better word for the things you write). Thanks!

I completely agree with you and your diplomatic way to see things and react. Your example shows perfectly that we can´t know everything about the purpose of the projects we translate, nor wether they are ethical to us or not. But again, it is not our job to judge, we are translators.


 

Valerie35 (X)
Local time: 03:05
German to English
Key point Feb 26, 2012

Nani Delgado wrote:
But again, it is not our job to judge, we are translators.


That is a key point to me. If some translation is going to obviously be used to defraud someone, I can see turning it down. But all of these grandiose notions of only doing good for society with translating are just silly to me.

If you want to wrestle with policies and ethics and effects on society, become a legislator or politician or lawyer or activist in that area. Otherwise, it's like the mailman opening your letters and throwing away the ones he thinks are bad.

Your job as a translator is to move information and ideas from one medium to another. That's it. All of this other stuff is above your pay grade. The ethics that count for translators are: Doing as faithful a translation as possible IF you take on the job (your choice). Being honest with regard to accounting details, money, billing etc. Being upfront with people about all aspects of the job.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 09:05
Chinese to English
Not much consensus here Feb 26, 2012

Blimey, scratch the surface and you find that we don't agree on much at all as translators.

I don't know if it's accurate to simplify the matter into two camps, but if we do, I'm in the "refuse where you think it's dodgy" camp.

Where Nina and Valerie say "It's not our job to judge, we are translators", I completely disagree: it is our job to judge, we are citizens. This is what democracy and society is - not casting your vote once every four years, but making moral/ethi
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Blimey, scratch the surface and you find that we don't agree on much at all as translators.

I don't know if it's accurate to simplify the matter into two camps, but if we do, I'm in the "refuse where you think it's dodgy" camp.

Where Nina and Valerie say "It's not our job to judge, we are translators", I completely disagree: it is our job to judge, we are citizens. This is what democracy and society is - not casting your vote once every four years, but making moral/ethical decisions on everyday things, and standing by them.

The argument that "if we don't do it, somebody else will" doesn't for me constitute an argument that we should do it. Other people in the world murder, steal and eat meat. I don't murder (yet), I don't steal ( not since that unfortunate phase as a teenager, ahem), and I'm a veggie. This small choices on my part aren't going to change the world in and of themselves, but that doesn't mean that it's meaningless for me to make them.

Hypothetically, to the case in point: if a crazed lover is trying to snoop on his girlfriend, and he runs up against an ethically conscious translator who says to him, "No, I won't translate this because it looks like this text has been generated by criminal (theft of personal information) or at least unethical means", there is a chance - just a chance - that it will get through to him.

That said, there are lots of cases in which we just don't know where a text has come from, and in general I would give the benefit of the doubt to a client. Refusing work is not something I'd want to do on the basis of a "feeling": I'd try to establish clear factual grounds.
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Valerie35 (X)
Local time: 03:05
German to English
Embellishment and snoopiness Feb 26, 2012

Phil Hand wrote:
Hypothetically, to the case in point: if a crazed lover is trying to snoop on his girlfriend, and he runs up against an ethically conscious translator who says to him, "No, I won't translate this because it looks like this text has been generated by criminal (theft of personal information) or at least unethical means", there is a chance - just a chance - that it will get through to him.


You are embellishing what the topic-starter said. I realize the purpose: You want to emphasize that you are a good citizen who would prevent crimes with your behavior - as opposed to the evil people who just translate stuff that doesn't look too world-threatening - but you are still posing a different case than the original poster presented.

In my posts above, I stated over and over again that you should just reject a job if you don't like it. No drama necessary. I feel that you not only want to reject jobs, you want to make sure that people understand you are a good citizen who doesn't murder other people. My beef isn't with rejecting jobs (for any reason you want or no reason at all), it's more of a question about why people want to present this drama.


Phil Hand wrote:
That said, there are lots of cases in which we just don't know where a text has come from, and in general I would give the benefit of the doubt to a client. Refusing work is not something I'd want to do on the basis of a "feeling": I'd try to establish clear factual grounds.


Here's the crux of it. Are you really going to snoop around, ask probing personal questions of customers and otherwise "establish clear factual grounds" with regard to a translation? If so, your customers should rightly tell you to take a hike. Either your sense of being on a very high moral plane would lead you to really do this, or you would not actually do this in real life, which leads to the question, "why did you write it then?".

[Edited at 2012-02-26 14:59 GMT]


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 09:05
Chinese to English
If you don't like to talk... Feb 26, 2012

don't talk?

Valerie: "it's more of a question about why people want to present this drama."

Because this is a translators' forum, where we come to chat about the stuff that happens to us. I think you're reading a bit too much into it! We're just here to chat.

I may well have slightly missed the point the OP was making, I hadn't gone back to read the top post. It's not really a matter of much interest for me - not my problem! I'm only taking part because the
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don't talk?

Valerie: "it's more of a question about why people want to present this drama."

Because this is a translators' forum, where we come to chat about the stuff that happens to us. I think you're reading a bit too much into it! We're just here to chat.

I may well have slightly missed the point the OP was making, I hadn't gone back to read the top post. It's not really a matter of much interest for me - not my problem! I'm only taking part because the general issue interests me, and I like chatting.

Valerie: "as opposed to the evil people who just translate stuff that doesn't look too world-threatening"

Again, chill out. I don't think you're evil until you mention Hitler in an internet discussion thread.

D'oh!

Valerie: "Are you really going to snoop around, ask probing personal questions of customers and otherwise "establish clear factual grounds" with regard to a translation? If so, your customers should rightly tell you to take a hike."

Then I would take a hike. Yes, I have no problem with doing this, though I would try to be a bit less creepy about it than you seem to be imagining! In this case, it would be a simple question about legality: "Dear client, Thank you for your recent request. I would be happy to translate these documents for you. I see that they are personal correspondence, and that the names on these documents are different to your name. In order to protect myself legally, I have to ask you for your assurance that you have permission to disclose these documents to me. A simple email statement will suffice. Sorry for the imposition."

If the client was unwilling to do that, then I'm taking a hike whether the client tells me to or not.

Honestly, I don't get why your imagination immediately jumps to "probing personal questions". I'm not trying to police the client's ethics here, just to uphold my own. By the by, I'd respond in the same way if this were a business situation - if a company came to me with what appeared to be a confidential client list from one of their competitors, for example, I'd ask a very similar question.
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