Ways to Improve

Published: May 16, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Everyone’s looking for ways to improve. (Well, maybe not everyone, but most people I know.) With all the ethics scandals in the news lately, I thought I would take this opportunity to offer some ways you can improve your ethical integrity.

To begin with –

Ethics – writer, philosopher Ayn Rand defines ethics as “a code of values which guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives.”

Moral duty – refers to the obligation to act or refrain from acting according to moral principles. Moral duties establish a minimal standard of ethical conduct. i.e. Don’t lie, cheat or steal.

Moral Virtue – goes beyond moral duty. It refers to a higher degree of moral excellence. Generosity and courage are admirable. However, it is not unethical if we don’t necessarily practice those virtues as long as we don’t violate the obligation not to harm others.

Values – are core beliefs or desires which guide or motivate attitudes and actions. A strong work ethic and sense-of-humor are two examples.

Ethical values – are values which directly relate to beliefs concerning what is right and proper as opposed to what is simply correct or effective, or which prompts a sense of moral duty.

Non-ethical values – are usually associated with things such as pleasure, money, status, fulfillment, personal freedom and happiness. However, when it comes to ethical decision-making, ethical values trump non-ethical values.

Personal Ethics – an expression sometimes used to demonstrate an individual’s code of behavior based on personal values and beliefs. However, if we determine that ethics is simply a personal matter and that each individual’s private code of values is entitled to equal respect regardless of their content, who’s to distinguish between Muammar Gaddafi and Mother Teresa. Both lived up to their own standards. Although all individuals have the right to choose their own values, it does not follow that all choices and value systems have an equal claim to be called ethical.

Specific action steps –

First, commit to a set of standards you know to be right. The Ten Commandments and Golden Rule are a good start, but those standards should also reflect a deep commitment to being trustworthy and accountable for all your decisions along with a sincere desire to strive to do your best in all circumstances.

Second, raise your awareness of ethics in the decisions you make. Are you treating others honestly, fairly, with respect and consideration? Are you using ethics as ground-rules of behavior?

Third, enhance your ethical proficiency. One way to make clear and consistent ethical decisions is to adopt the decision-making model advocated by The Josephson Institute:

1. An ethical decision-maker considers the interests and well-being of ALL likely to be affected by their decisions.

2. An ethical decision-maker makes decisions characterized by their core, ethical values of Trustworthiness (honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, loyalty), Respect, Responsibility, Justice & Fairness, Caring, and Civic Virtue & Citizenship. These values always take precedence over non-ethical values such as hard work, competitiveness, ingenuity, curiosity.

3. If it is clearly necessary to choose one ethical value over another, the ethical decision-maker will do the thing that he or she sincerely believes to be best for society in the long run.

Remember –

Ethics is not about what we say or what we intend. It’s about what we do.

Ethics are ground-rules of behavior, not just another set of criteria to consider.

Value your reputation. Who you become is determined by what you do.


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