Friday, January 21, 2005

On Ethics and Morals

Some friends and I have been having ongoing discussions about ethical decision-making, about whether it is something you do in business only or whether it ought to permeate your life. It seems to me that most people don't consider that they ought to have an ethical framework for making personal decisions because they assume that their feelings for a loved one will guide them appropriately. I happen to disagree.

How many fantastic senators, CEOs and pastors do we know who treat the general public very well and yet who can't seem to get their personal lives together? I posit that the cause of such a dichotomy is the mistaken belief that specific and consciously-followed ethical frameworks are not necessary in one's personal life; that personal decisions will take care of themselves simply because we love or care about someone.

IMHO, that belief is precisely what leads to broken relationships and unhappy families. Imagine a world where we all treat our loved ones as we, by law or by professional oath, treat our coworkers and clients. Can you imagine the incredible impact it would have on your marriage or your relationship with your kids or parents?

I just read a fantastic article by a man named Randy Pennington who has authored a book on leading with integrity. He wrote a couple of things that were so simple and yet so true. He says that “3-D vision—denial, distortion and delusion—blinds us to the need for change. We deny the truth, distort reality and delude ourselves into thinking we are better than we are…the cure is simple: continuously search for and acknowledge truth and reality.” He goes on to relate an “Ethics Litmus Test” created by Harry Emerson Fosdick. I will recreate it here because I think, in its simplicity, will guide every decision you make, and SS Haggis is nothing if not here for your personal edification. ;)

I just loved its simplicity because it takes all of the excuses for why we lie or hide or refuse to do right by those who love us and just breaks it down to idiot-proof levels:

1. Does the course of action you plan to follow seem logical, responsible and legal?
2. Would the results be beneficial for all if everyone were to make the same decision?
3. Where will your plan of action lead? How will it affect others?
4. Will you think well of yourself when you look back at what you’ve done?
5. How would the person you most admire handle this situation? What would your hero do?
6. What would your family and friends think of your decision? Decisions made in the hope that no one finds out are usually wrong.

So simple, and yet, for many of us, so in need of repeating.

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