Know Your Ethical Type

I think we all know that people look at things differently when it comes to ethics. But did you know that there are distinct ethical types? And do you know your own ethical type? Try the article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-pastin/whats-your-ethical-type_b_8962356.html to learn more about ethical types.

Another Lie: There Is No Progress In Ethics

It does often seem that progress in ethics is hard to come by. But can anyone doubt that it is more ethical to live in a society in which slavery is not tolerated than to live in one in which slavery is tolerated? Is it not clearly more ethical to live in a society that allows participation by women than in one that prohibits it? What is true is that ethical progress is not easy or equal. But did anyone expect ethical progress to be easy, automatic or universally acknowledged? Ethical progress may come slowly and at great cost – but it does come.

Lies about Ethics

No topic is more subject to lies than ethics. In fact, our thinking about ethics typically begins with a lie. Each of us tells our self that we are ethical while we are uncertain about the ethics of most everyone else. We are always the exception. Ethics is the subject of a lot of lies because it is very personal to us and is part of our self-esteem. If you do a lot of thinking about ethics, you may end up challenging the very foundation of who you are. But lies about ethics are not harmless. They keep us mired in endless ethical disagreement about some of the most important issues of the day such as immigration, executive compensation, and climate change. Over the next several posts, starting here, I will talk about some of the big lies about ethics.

You Can’t Teach People Ethics.

This is patently false since most parents teach their children ethical basics, albeit with varying degrees of success. Parents teach children ethics by using rewards, punishments, persuasion and example. And this mostly works. The goal of parental teaching is to equip us to make ethical judgments once we no longer have our parents to guide us. Since we know ethics can be taught, we have to ask whether we should be using the same tools to continue ethics education into adulthood. However, these tools are less effective with adults just because adults believe that they already know the truth about ethics.

5th and Final Surprising Truth about Ethics

You can teach a person ethics.

This should be obvious since most parents teach most children ethics to some extent – although not as much as we might like. The reason we can teach children ethics is that children respond to incentives, whether it is a new toy for telling the truth or a pronounced glare for lying. Companies spend tens of millions of dollars trying to talk their employees into acting ethically. But they keep the same reward system that they have always used in which ethics plays no part. And so nothing changes.

Surprising Truths about Ethics #4

Here is another surprising truth about ethics:

People are not getting less ethical. Every generation regards later generations as less ethical than their own. But the evidence is to the contrary. The Council of Ethical Organizations has conducted a highly tested survey in hundreds of organization since 1986. While particular organizations or industry segments get more or less ethical, overall scores on the survey have been stable for almost 20 years. There is no central tendency of decline. What sometimes makes us think ethics is on the way out is the fact that we learn more about ethical misdeeds than earlier generations did partly due to power of social media and the growth of news outlets.

More on Whistle Blowers and How to Manage Them

The following piece on this topic appeared in the Globe and Mail.

http://tinyurl.com/o4ex72r

Surprising Truths About Ethics #3

The profit motive is not to blame. There are as many unethical actions in government and the non-profit sector as there are in business. Even though the profit motive can drive people to get ahead no matter what, so can political and bureaucratic motives. Does anyone doubt that the drive for position, power and fame is as ethically deforming as the drive for profit? It is only when seeking profit means seeking profit at any cost that you are likely to find ethics issues. But seeking power or fame at any cost has the same consequence. This is discussed in more depth in my book, Make an Ethical Difference.