Look around. Observe us. We are inundated with conflicting facts, spin, half-truths, and innuendo. In the middle are individuals, families, priorities, and decisions; influenced by media, business, government, technologies, and social environments.
What are those accumulated stresses doing to our fabric – our ethical and moral compass?
Some define freedom as a moral laissez-faire. “If it feels good, do it” or “I look out for No. 1,” even if it includes harassment, bullying, smearing, cheating, thieving, etc.
At risk of appearing self-righteous, I ask a question. Is it time for a rigorous and deep discussion about ethics and morality?
Not just a casual exchange, but a continuing dialog including people from all walks of life – families, kids, adolescents, adults, students, faculty, business, religious, and political leaders.
Forget sound bites. Do we need a deep re-examination and clarification of the ideas expressed by those who navigated centuries before us? Ideas like respect, truth, duty, honor, nobility, honesty, integrity, and virtue.
Were bullying and abuse “Ok” before social media? Were theft and corruption “Ok” before technology? What changed?
Perhaps it’s worth distinguishing how we talk about “ethics” and “morality.”
To many, “ethics” are one’s professional ethics – groups creating their code, monitoring themselves, and making amendments as necessary. While some guidelines are substantive, others are window dressing. Few suffer penalties when violating professional ethics.
On the other hand, morality is the code of personal conduct and responsibility. Strong codes of individual conduct knit us together and nurture mutual civility. High moral standards raise us above the mean.
We have spent the past fifty years talking about “leadership.” Where’s the discussion about “morality”? Every day, the media reports stories about people in leadership roles abusing, assaulting, smearing, and stealing.
Shouldn’t leaders subscribe to a higher moral standard? They are role-models that include Moms and Dads, teachers, ministers, and company presidents.
Leaders must demonstrate integrity, honesty, fairness, and trustworthiness. Our responsibility is to lead by example. They must possess a deep understanding of what it means to be a “role model.”
Leaders are either respected or disrespected. When they put aside principles for ego or popularity and behave poorly or dishonestly, they still influence us.
What place is there in any environment for harassment, bullying, and lying? In business, those problems exist because management tolerates them. In our institutions and broader society, they exist because we tolerate them.
Most agree that we cannot legislate morality. One observed that when men are moral laws don’t matter, and when men are immoral all the laws don’t matter.
With knowledge and technology compounding every couple of years, do we as individuals, have the maturity and character to integrate the moral and technological challenges of our society’s future?
We are not at a point of no return, but we are approaching a tipping point. It is time to initiate a deep discussion.
As leaders, we each have a significant role. We are each role models. We are each responsible.
Terry Myers, Principal of Business Edge, is an experienced Management Consultant. He partners with Tom Schnurr to guide companies to bridge the gap to revitalize and optimize stakeholder value.