I don’t like starting posts with a disclaimer but for this post I think I have to. So here is the disclaimer: I am not as ethical as I think I am. Just for the record it’s highly likely that you aren’t as ethical as you think you are either.
My personal battle to always be ethical is never-ending but at least I try…. or at least I try to convince myself that I try. I also sometimes try to convince myself that something that I think might not be ethical actually is. That way I don’t have to feel bad when I do it. More people than not are just like me in that regard.
Despite all that “baggage” I’m going to now write about the importance of ethics.
There are really three levels of ethics to consider. The first is known as “pre conventional.” At this level a person acts almost solely in their own best interests. This causes them to follow rules only to avoid punishment or to receive rewards. At this level a person will willingly break moral or legal laws if they feel there is no chance of being caught.
The second level of ethics is the “conventional” level. At this level a person conforms to the expectations of others in society. They are very likely to try hard to uphold all morale and legal laws.
The highest level of ethics is call the “principled” level. At this level a person lives by an internal set of morals, values and ethics. They uphold these morales, values and ethics regardless of any consequences or majority opinion.
Researchers say that about 75% of people operate at the conventional level and that fewer than 20% of people live at the principled level. The other 5% appear to be running for President of the United States…oh geez, did I really just write that. 😉
The 75% of people at the conventional level clearly know right from wrong. They struggle with ethics because instead of finding ways to always do the right thing they invest too much of their time trying to justify why the wrong thing they want to do is actually the right thing to do.
They convince themselves “it’s okay” and then they do it. Then they work their butts off trying to make sure nobody finds out what they did. Here’s a clue for those of us who one day hope to fully live at the principled level: if you wouldn’t want anyone to know that you did “it” then you also know that “it” isn’t ethical.
If you invest even one moment trying to hide your actions from view then your actions were almost certainly unethical.
Many of the people at the conventional level slip into the pre conventional level because they are willing, at times anyway, to trade their integrity and ethics for the appearance of success.
That is a very very poor trade.
We make it because in the moment that we make the trade it seems “worth it,” but in the moments after the trade the person we really are, the one who lives at the conventional level, feels almost immediate regret. That trade, it turns out, is NEVER really worth it.
Staying ethical can be a challenge for a whole lot of people but it’s vital that we never stop trying. When we slip down a notch we must regroup and try harder next time. We must try harder because ethics really do matter. They matter because without them society becomes unruly, unmanageable, and unsustainable.
We cannot let that happen so our goal should always be the principled level of ethics. We should never compromise on our ethics because a successful, happy life is not built on a compromising our principles, it is built on living them.
Live your principles, no matter the cost and you’ll live the life you deserve.
8 thoughts on “Do Ethics Matter?”
In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do. -Stephen Covey
That’s a great quote, one that I certainly agree with.
If you don’t live your life ethically you’ll also live the life you deserve.
That is an excellent observation my friend!
Steve, thanks for a challenging and thoughtful post. I appreciate your insights. I wish I would spend more time at the principled level. It’s disappointing to see how little it takes to get me to compromise. I appreciate how your posts always challenge me to move up the ladder. Thanks!
Thanks Mike. I too wish I could be more consistent and stay at the principled level. Upon reflection the “deals” I make with myself are never worth it but at the time… I guess we are just a work in progress 😊
Having code of ethics, values, principle, makes my life actually easier. Every decision can be measured against my “commandments” and if it does not fit there or breaks my rules – out!
That’s a great point David, our values absolutely should shape every decision we make. With values and principles I actually don’t know how people do make decisions…