Civility and Openness to Learning

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Author’s Note: In a previous post, Civility is an Ethical Issue, I explained why civility is an ethical issue. In this post I’ll explore the connection between civility and openness to learning.

Moving From Tolerance to Civility 

It seems that “civility” has come to mean something closer to the word “tolerance” in everyday conversation. Civil behavior now seems to imply an aloof stance that doesn’t step directly on anyone’s toes. But that is not nearly enough. According to W. Jason Wallace, we should be “moral agents” who “share moral relationships.”

The 21st century debate over civility, whether involving politics, religion, economics, or education, will have to confront the difficult problem of what it means to be a moral agent who shares moral relationships.  To this end, shallow conceptions of civility as manners or civility as tolerance must deepen to include civility as the cultivation of virtuous habit and the right ordering of human goods.

W. Jason Wallace, Ph.D., Samford University,  Civility: What Does Civility Mean in the 21st Century Debate?, Alabama Humanities Review

Listen to Learn

How do we build moral relationships? One way that we do that successfully is to be open to the ideas of others, and to other world views. When we disagree with someone, it is responsible to listen to them, and to see what we can learn from their perspective. To be ready to listen and learn, we must acknowledge that we do not have all of the answers. Acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers helps us remember that other people’s ideas may be just as important as our own.

Ideally, we listen eagerly to other people’s points of view. At minimum, we need to show respect when we disagree. George Washington penned a list of Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation sometime before he turned 16 years old.  Number one on his list was:

“Every Action Done in Company, Ought to be With Some Sign of Respect, to Those That are Present.”

Washington, George. Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette. Williamsburg, VA: Beaver Press, 1971.

Admitting We Don’t Have All Of The Answers

Why is it that we disagree so strongly? Have we tried to understand their position fully? Have we remembered to be respectful and open to learning? Have we considered why they have that viewpoint? Have we thought about how their life experiences differ from ours?

When we are not open to learning, we can easily misinterpret another perspective that does not match our own as a threat. That perspective that we are actively arguing against may in fact reflect a more current, more advanced, or more ethical perspective than ours.

Failing to acknowledge that there are other perspectives on an issue (and that the people who hold them have a right to their views as much as we do) shows a lack of respect, and a lack of awareness about:

  • Individuality
  • Complexity
  • Innovation
  • Learning, and
  • Collaboration

There are Multiple Perspectives on Every Issue

Responsible leaders acknowledge that there are multiple perspectives. They wrestle with complex issues. They know that any one person having all of the answers is impossible. They know that behaving in a civil and respectful way is considered part of our human responsibility.

As moral leaders who are building moral relationships, we must: step back far enough to realize the limitations of our own knowledge; commit to understanding other perspectives that go against our own views; encourage civility and respect; and stay open to lifelong learning.

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For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

What is Ethical Leadership?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is ethical leadership? I have been exploring that question on the Leading in Context Blog for the last four years. This week, I’ve chosen some highlights from popular posts to illustrate what leading in a complex world requires of each of us.

Leading ethically in a global society requires much more than following laws and regulations. We must take on a global mindset, maintain an openness to learning, actively build trust, and so much more.

We must move away from a compliance mindset, and reach for a values-based mindset that considers much more (see the highest level on this three-level graphic).

Which of These is Ethical Leadership

Expectations Beyond Compliance and Laws

“Following laws and regulations is just above the punishment threshold for ethical leadership. Expectations are moving to a much higher level, a level at which we are expected to do much more. Look at the third level, the highest level of the graphic. Aren’t transparency, sustainability and honoring human rights now expected of all businesses? I believe they are, and there are other factors we need to consider that are not on this list. The minimum standard is gradually moving to a higher level as we better understand the impact of our choices on others in a global society.”       

Linda Fisher Thornton, Which of These is Ethical Leadership?

Openness to Learning

“When we are not open to learning, we can easily misinterpret another perspective that does not match our own as a threat. That perspective that we are actively arguing against may in fact reflect a more current, more advanced, or more ethical perspective than ours. Failing to acknowledge that there are other perspectives on an issue (and that the people who hold them have a right to their views as much as we do) shows a lack of respect, and a lack of awareness…”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Civility and Openness to Learning

Inclusion

“Managing diversity without inclusion as the ultimate goal can make a big difference in the way employees experience our organization. We choose a way of thinking that represents what we’re trying to do and then build a process/program/structure or measurement based on that foundation. If diversity is our way of thinking, we may get an approach based on “differences,” rather than one based on creating an inclusive culture where a diverse group of people can do their best work.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Differences or Inclusion: Which Are We Focusing On?

Service and Care

“One of the elements of ethical leadership that may be overlooked when we view ethics using a “legal lens” is supporting and developing the potential of the people we lead. While many leadership ethics programs focus on the risk side of ethics – compliance with laws and regulations, avoiding lawsuits, etc., there is an equally important side of ethics that involves care.” Linda Fisher Thornton, Ethical Leaders Care

A High Trust Environment

“On the surface, it doesn’t seem that curiosity and imagination are related to ethics. But think about what would happen in an environment where people were not able to use them. Could employees still be relied on to consistently behave ethically in an environment where they were not engaged in their work, and where they did not feel respected or fairly treated?”

Linda FIsher Thornton, Curiosity and Imagination Necessary Ingredients in Ethical Business

A Global Mindset

“When we see the world as a global society, we see that we need to act as if what happens to others, even people we may never meet, matters. We all share space, food and natural resources. We also share international communication and transportation systems and a global economy. Thinking about our planet as home to a global society, it is clear that we must act as if what happens to the environment matters. Our survival is dependent on the limited resources we have available and how responsibly we use them.” 

Linda Fisher Thornton, Ethical Leadership and… a Global Society

Honoring Human Rights

“As leaders, we are expected to protect human rights in all that we do. In our quest to lead responsibly, we must continually consider the question “How do we need to change in order to better honor human rights?” If you are in the process of developing a corporate human rights policy, A Guide for Business: How to Develop a Human Rights Policy (UN Human Rights, Global Compact) is helpful in beginning the discussion.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Honoring Human Rights is Essential

Staying ready to lead ethically in a globally networked world will require continual learning and a broad understanding of what ethical responsibility includes. Let’s get started…

 

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For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 

5 More Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap

By Linda Fisher Thornton

5 More Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap

The comments kept coming! Here are 5 More Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap based on social media responses to Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical?  They are each illustrated here with quotes.

1.  A Sense of Humor

 “Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.”

 Agnes Repplier

2.  Empathy

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

Siddhārtha Gautama

3.  Authenticity (your inner voice)

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

Carl G. Jung

4.  Awareness of Our Biases

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an awareness about ourselves.”

Carl G. Jung

5.  Care

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Theodore Roosevelt

The original September 5, 2012 post about rightness Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical? set an all-time one-day record for the Leading in Context Blog. Perhaps readers believe, as I do, that we need to work together in ways that respect both our individuality and our connectedness. To achieve that, we will need to be always vigilant and always learning.

Related Posts:

Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical?

10 Ways to Avoid the Rightness Trap

Civility is an Ethical Issue

Civility and Openness to Learning

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For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical?

by Linda Fisher Thornton

Abandoning Civility to Prove We’re “Right”

Why do people sometimes abandon civility at work?

One reason is that when the discussion gets heated, sometimes we just like to be “right.”  And we may abandon civility to try to prove that we are right.

We may not always be able to resist the temptation to argue that our perspective is better, more accurate, more current or more relevant than someone else’s. While there may be a sense of satisfaction (short term) that comes from loudly proving that we are “right” and they are wrong, verbally attacking someone else for what they believe is not an ethical approach.

Why is Attacking Others Unethical?

When we don’t agree with someone, attacking them and trying to discredit them is an attempt to reaffirm the status quo as we see it – to prove that things are exactly the way we understand them and that we don’t need to change our thinking. 

But attacking others with different views is not a responsible or respectful behavior. So regardless of how intelligent we think our view is, our attacking behavior will not be “right” from an ethical standpoint.

There is a danger we face when we make our point too strongly. A powerful desire to be “right” can completely blind us to how we are treating others. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “There can be no high civility without a deep morality.”

“Passively, tolerance and respect simply mean accepting that a person with different beliefs and perspectives has a right to exist and doesn’t deserve to be attacked merely because of those differences – no matter how great they are.”

August Cline, Why Be Civil? (The Ethics and Moral Obligations of Civility), About.com

Being Careful About Our Behavior

Joshua Lederberg said that “A lack of civility is sometimes attributed to unchecked anger.” We do have to work to contain our anger and to be careful about our behavior when we don’t agree.

Michael Brannigan explains that civility “requires us to discipline our impulses” and “free ourselves from self-absorption:”

“Civility cultivates a civic code of decency. It requires us to discipline our impulses for the sake of others. It demands we free ourselves from self-absorption. By putting ethics into practice in our day-to-day encounters, civility is that moral glue without which our society would come apart.”

Michael Brannigan, The Pfaff Endowed Chair in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY [This quote is from his column in the Sunday Times Union in Albany]

Listen to Learn

When we disagree, it is responsible to listen to the other person, and to see what we can learn from their perspective. When we attack first, before listening in order to understand another view, we ignore this very important aspect of our responsibility as leaders – being open to learning. 

Responsible leadership requires that we be open-minded and civil. Fiercely defending our viewpoint as “right” without being open to learning from others does not qualify as open-minded, and demonstrates a lack of civility.

Ethical Leaders Disagree Respectfully

Ethical leaders know that respectful behavior is part of our responsibility as citizens of a global society.  Withholding respect when we disagree signals a departure from civility, but it also represents something more harmful:

The immorality of incivility goes deeper than that, however. When we withhold tolerance and respect from a person, we stop treating them as a fellow human being.

August Cline, Why Be Civil? (The Ethics and Moral Obligations of Civility), About.com

More Leading in Context® Posts About Civility and Ethical Behavior

Civility is an Ethical Issue

Ethical Interpersonal Behavior Graphic: Red, Green and Yellow Zones

Why We Need a Strong Moral Center

Civility and Openness to Learning

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For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

10 Favorite Quotes From the Leading in Context Blog

10 Quotes

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I noticed that Jesse Lyn Stoner’s Blog Post Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of My Blog included her favorite quotes from her blog. Her post appeared in the Mini-Carnival of HR at CostofWork.com along with my 150th Blog Post Learning Out Loud .

This week, I thought I’d share 10 of my favorite quotes from the Leading in Context Blog. Clicking on each quote takes you to the full post that includes the quote.

Visit the Leading in Context® Blog Index for more articles about how to lead ethically in a complex world.

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For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 

 

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