Ethical Thinking is Intentional, Thoughtful and Applied

By Linda Fisher Thornton

One of the things we know about ethical decision-making is that we need to take the time to do it. But if we fill up every minute of the day with meetings, deadlines, emails and projects, when will we have time to think about the impact of our choices? 

How will we consider our decisions in terms of ethical values if we don’t take time to consider our decisions at all?

Rushing to a decision in response to perceived external pressures is a good way to make an ethical mistake. The thinking that leads to ethical choices is intentional, thoughtful and applied.

Intentional and Thoughtful

Some people tend to trust their “gut” and make very quick decisions that turn into highly visible ethical failures. Listening to our “gut” has a place in ethical decision-making but it has to be balanced with a more intentional way of thinking about our choices. If we instantly assess the situation based on our very human implicit biases (we all have them), we are not likely to make a fair and ethical choice.

We have to intentionally overcome those flaws in our thinking to make moral choices. Once we decide to use ethical thinking, we need to take the time to dig into grey areas and explore the potential long-term ethical impact of the different paths we could take. 

Applied

How do we tap into our “ethical brain?” According to Professor Joshua Greene, there is no specific place in our brains that is “moral.” He points out in The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary Perspective that “It’s now clear that the ‘moral brain’ is, more or less, the whole brain, applying its computational powers to problems that we, on nonneuroscientific grounds, identify as ‘moral.'”

As we practice resolving dilemmas we find ethics to be less a goal than a pathway, less a destination than a trip, less an inoculation than a process.   — Rushworth Kidder

There is no automatic setting or magic technique for ethical thinking. It is a thoughtful process. We have to apply ourselves – to  understand issues, explore their ethical implications, and choose a moral path. Watch for leaders and organizations who are embracing this process and reaping the benefits through improved ethical brand value. 

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How Balanced is Your Ethical Diet?

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It’s easy to understand that ethics has various “requirements.” What might not be as obvious is that it takes effort on many levels simultaneously to maintain the ethical well-being of people and organizations. 

Just as we need to eat from a variety of food groups to get balanced nutrition each day, we need to honor more than one ethical dimension to get balanced ethics. 

If we worked on just one or two of these dimensions, for example, our ethics would be incomplete:

Our Own Ethics and Integrity

How Well we Follow Laws, Policies and Regulations

How We Treat Others

How We Impact Our Communities

How We Conserve Resources

How We Contribute to Improving Our Global Society

How do we choose an “ethical diet” that sustains good leadership and responsible companies? We pile on healthy portions of character, respect and care for people, attention to sustainability and community service and a focus on creating a good life for future generations. We make it a balanced meal by honoring laws and profiting responsibly. 

Since ethics is multidimensional, our learning and application must be multidimensional. People can’t push vegetables to the corner of the plate and fill up on donuts if they want to be healthy. Similarly, they can’t push respect and care aside and take too large a helping of profits. We can only reach a “balanced ethical diet” by successfully applying all of the required ethical groups.

 

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