At the height of the government shutdown last month, during all the fuss and furry, three Republican Senators – Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Kelly Ayotte brokered a deal that returned common sense, civility and bipartisanship to Washington. Along with 17 other female Democrat and Republican colleagues, Ayotte, Murkowski and Collins put service ahead of agenda to reopen the government.
However, what is most interesting to me is how they accomplished this. Whether they realized it or not, they utilized The Josephson Institute’s Three C’s of Ethics: Commitment, Consciousness and Competency.
“Ethical commitment,” ethicist Michael Josephson writes, “refers to a strong desire to do the right thing, especially when ethics imposes financial, social or psychological costs… People who are unwilling to lose have to be willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
“Republican Susan Collins went to the Senate floor to do two things that none of her colleagues had yet attempted,” TIMEmagazine writes. “She refrained from partisan blame and proposed a plan to end the crisis. ‘I ask my Democratic and Republican colleagues to come together,’ Collins said on Oct. 8. ‘We can do it. We can legislate responsibly and in good faith.’
“Senate Appropriations Committee chair Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, happened to be standing nearby, and she soon picked up a microphone and joined in. ‘Let’s get to it. Let’s get the job done,’ she said. ‘I am willing to negotiate. I am willing to compromise.’
“Ten minutes later, a third Senator stood to speak. ‘I am pleased to stand with my friend from Maine, Senator Collins, as she has described a plan which I think is pretty reasonable,’ said Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski. ‘I think it is pretty sensible.’ ”
Ethical Consciousness –
“Many people,” Josephson says, “simply fail to apply their moral convictions to daily behavior. And some tend to develop a professional tunnel vision that blinds them to ethical issues that everyone else sees.”
“The women’s club,” TIME writes, “offers some of the same benefits that came in the original men’s version, as well as some updates: mentor lunches and regular dinners, started decades ago by Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the Senate, but also bridal and baby showers and playdates for children and grandchildren. An unspoken rule among what Collins calls ‘the sisterhood’ holds that the women refrain from publicly criticizing one another. And there is a deep sense that more unites them personally than divides them politically. ‘One of the things we do a bit better is listen,’ says North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. ‘It is about getting people in a room with different life experiences who will look at things a little differently because they’re moms, because they’re daughters who’ve been taking care of senior moms, because they have a different life experience than a lot of senior guys in the room.’ ”
Ethical Competency –
“Noticing the ethical issues and being committed to act ethically is not always enough. In complex situations, reasoning and problem-solving skills are also necessary.” The process includes: “Evaluation – the ability to collect and evaluate relevant facts and how to make prudent decisions based on incomplete and ambiguous facts; Creativity – the capacity to develop alternative means of accomplishing goals in way which avoid or minimize ethical problems; and Prediction – the ability to foresee a potential consequences of conduct and assess the likelihood or risk that people will be helped or harmed by an act.”
“Most of the Senate’s 20 women,” TIME reports, “had gathered the previous night for pizza, salad and wine in the offices of New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat. All the buzz that night was about Collins’ plan to reopen the government with some basic compromises. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, proposed adding the repeal of the unpopular medical-device tax. Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow suggested pulling revenue from her stalled farm bill. In policy terms, it was a potluck dinner.
“In the hours that followed, those discussions attracted more Senators, including some men, and yielded a plan that would lead to genuine talks between Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to end the shutdown…. No one doubted the origin. ‘The women are an incredibly positive force because we like each other,’ Klobuchar boasted to TIME as the negotiations continued. ‘We work together well, and we look for common ground.’
Working in this way, the women have developed their own three C’s of conflict resolution: civility, common ground, and compromise.
“Women now chair or sit as ranking members of 10 of the Senate’s 20 committees,” TIME says, “and are responsible for passing the vast majority of legislation this year, whether it be the budget, the transportation bill, the farm bill, the Water Resources Development Act or the Violence Against Women Act. They have driven the debate on everything from derivatives reform to sexual assault in the military.
“Perhaps most important, they are showing how to make things happen. ‘I am very proud that these women are stepping forward,’ says Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican. ‘Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.’ ”
“An ethical person understands the importance of self-restraint and sacrifice,” Josephson says, “and the value and rewards of service and charity. Sometimes people must choose between what they want and what they want to be.”
Here’s to the 20 women of the U.S. Senate who stand for service.
Barbara Mikulski (MD), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Barbara Boxer(CA), Patty Murray (WA), Susan Collins (ME), Mary Landrieu(LA), Maria Cantwell (WA), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Claire McCaskill(MO), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Kay Hagan (NC), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Tammy Baldwin (WI),Deb Fischer (NE), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Mazie Hirono (HI), and Elizabeth Warren (MA).