What’s the Point?

Published: May 30, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Recently a reader asked, “We know ethics scandals are all over the news. We know politicians are corrupt, that bankers, CEOs and executives lie, cheat and steal. So, what are you trying to tell us that we don’t already know? What’s the point?”

The point of the site is this: to understand that there is an ethical dimension to many of the choices we make; that those choices can and do affect others as well as ourselves. My intention is to not only raise your level of consciousness, but to encourage you to make better, more effective decisions in your personal and professional lives in terms of ethical values. Some choices will be clear; others more complex due to competing interests and values. Social, professional, and economic concerns can frequently clash and confuse our judgment.

I examine contemporary stories through an ethical lens to help us recognize and eliminate unethical alternatives, and look for the best ethical options. I endeavor to give you a vocabulary of ethics by talking about the importance of universal ethical values – Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Respect, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. When it comes to ethical decision-making, these values supersede non-ethical values such as hard work, success, fame, etc.

I’ve discussed the false concept of “personal ethics” – the notion that some people think that their own personal beliefs are a suitable framework for making ethical decisions. However, if everyone’s personal moral code were legitimate, there would be no difference between Mother Teresa and Osama bin Laden – both made decisions based on personal beliefs.

“Ethical decision-making requires more than a belief in the importance of ethics,” ethicist Michael Josephson says. “It also requires sensitivity to perceive the ethical implications of decisions, the ability to evaluate complex, ambiguous and incomplete facts and the skill to implement ethical decisions without unduly jeopardizing a career.”

Some individuals have had to demonstrate the enormous honesty and courage to tell the truth despite significant personal costs. Tobacco insider Jeff Wigand, WorldCom internal auditor Cynthia Cooper, and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley are just of few individual examples of grace and integrity under fire.

When I asked each of them what caused them to stick to their principles in spite of the considerable pressure brought to bear, Jeff Wigand cited his young daughters as one important reason. Cynthia Cooper and Coleen Rowley referenced their parents influence in doing what was right.

I try to offer more than just “the usual suspects” in terms of ethics-related stories. While I’ve covered politicians and CEOs, I’ve also talked about schoolteachers, ministers, athletes and journalists.

I help inform through polls such as my 2006 Honesty and Trust in America survey of more than 8,000 Americans. Quotes of the Week reinforces some of the thoughts in the commentaries. The Ethical Hero attempts to inspire us to strive to be a little better in our own lives. And Let’s Be Honest offers a little fun by, in the words of Chicago humorist Finley Dunne, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

What’s the point?

Ethics matters, now, more than ever.

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