Leading Blog






06.06.08

Ethics: We Are They

Leadership Nuggets

Ethics for the Real World
Many people we encounter downplay the ramifications of inconsistent ethical conduct, especially when it comes to smaller compromises. On the path to becoming skilled ethical decision makers, however, we will find it helpful to take both big and small indiscretions seriously. Errors in thought are usually the same in both cases.

For example, we may refer to lying as exaggeration, taking creative license, spinning. We may excuse ourselves as being lawyerly, forgetful, or tactful. But when we use euphemisms for such actions, we redefine them as less than wrong. This inculcates a risky thinking pattern, where we cloud our ability to reason—and sometimes erroneously assume the reasoning makes sense to those we deal with.

In a Zogby International poll of eight thousand adults, 97 percent said they consider themselves trustworthy. On the other hand, only 75 percent consider the people they work with and live near trustworthy. Allow us to speculate that the gap between these two figures may reflect more than perception. Behaviors that may seem ethical to us may not be considered so high-minded by people we deal with.

Transgressions crop up in the lives of people across all levels of society. The individuals perpetrating them have all levels of education and work in all professions, trades, and industries. It is counterproductive to think we are not players on a landscape dotted with pitfalls we may stumble into ourselves. Temptation is everywhere—and so is compromise.

One danger is that we will get caught up in a sequence of not just small temptations but big ones. Maybe they will be life changing or life threatening. Faulty thinking can lure us into wrongs we never imagined. Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has for decades studied the genesis of evil. He writes, “Virtually anyone could be recruited to engage in evil deeds that deprive other human beings of their dignity, humanity and life . . . we live with the illusion of moral superiority . . . We take false pride in believing that ‘I am not that kind of person.’”

The fact is, we are all that kind of person. We are they. Through thinking errors, denial, and rationalization, we can all be put in a position of selling our character for a pittance, of sacrificing our relationships for a song. That’s yet another reason why it is helpful to take a conscious, systematic approach to breaking risky ethical thinking habits—on even the small things.

Adapted from Ethics for the Real World: Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisions in Work and Life by Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:31 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Ethics



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