Ethical Thinking: Sifting For Values

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Most people think about ethics, at least some of the time. Ethics comes to mind during ethics training, ethics conversations, when people are thrown into ethically complex situations, and when trying to understand current events.

While we may think about ethics from time to time, ethical thinking is different. It is the process of actively considering how our choices align with ethical principles, and how those choices could impact our constituents. It is proactive, intentional and consistently applied.

Ethical Thinking Isn’t Automatic

Staying competent in our leadership includes moving from thinking about ethics to thinking with ethics – in day-to-day decisions and actions. Most things we handle will have an ethical component at some point, and we’ll need to be ready for it. We’ll need to recognize it, think through the implications, and ultimately make an ethical choice.

Ethical thinking doesn’t happen automatically, so we’ll need to be:

  • ethically aware enough to realize the importance of ethical thinking
  • broad enough in our scope to consider the impact of our choices on all constituents, and
  • proactive enough to use ethical thinking before making decisions

Sifting For Values

Imagine all the variables that go into making a decision as flour being poured into a sifter. The process of sifting the flour changes it into something with a finer texture. When ethical thinking is done right, our options are sifted until only the ethical ones remain.

During this process, we:

  • infuse our everyday decisions and actions with ethical values
  • make choices that respect the rights of others
  • consider the impact of our choices on our varied constituents before we make decisions

When we sift a decision for values, some options are rejected (like the clumps of flour that never make it through the sifter) and the choices that emerge are refined.

Take a moment to assess your ethical thinking. How well are you sifting for values? How will it help you manage the challenges you face in the next 6 months?

22 Resources For Developing Ethical Thinking


Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership  

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