When I speak to entrepreneurs as well as sales trainers and sales professionals I am often surprised that many of them do not know the distinction between “ethical behavior” and “moral behavior”.
Let’s explore this distinction not just in business but also in life in general.
In a dominant group with a rigid world view rules of ethical thought and behavior may be strictly defined in ways that are clearly dysfunctional and oppressive.. However in an increasingly multicultural world it is harder for any group to remain isolated and dominant. In our modern (post – modern) world ethics can seldom be defined in absolute terms.
In my view ethics is a personally defined system concerning right or wrong behavior. This is distinct from morals which is defined in by a system of right or wrong defined by a group or hierarchy.
It is generally agreed in most of the social sciences that morality is the study of what makes actions right and wrong. The distinction is not always clear and for some academics the words are synonymous. For most social scientists morality is the study of what makes actions right and wrong. Ethics, also known by some as “moral philosophy” is a branch of philosophy which addresses questions about morality. The word ‘ethics’ is commonly used interchangeably with ‘morality’ … and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group, or individual.
When making choices and deciding how to interact with others, ethical behavior is a reflection of a person’s intent to act, the a personal choice of what is right or wrong
Morality is a reflection of a group’s ideas of what is right and wrong, morality becomes the code of acceptable, functional behavior imposed on all members of the group.
As one creates a functional reality one soon learns to behave morally or one may be punished by the group. When one acts unethically he/she is essentially violating his/her own rules.
There are many theories concerning morality and ethics. The practical element of all this for one creating a quantum reality can become very tricky. There are , many elements one must explore including perspective, duty, obligation, personal or cultural values, codes of conduct and social mores especially when forced into an dysfunctional environment of ordinary thinkers.
In our new world of multi-cultural experiences rules, regulations, customs and laws are constantly changing, as they are adapted to the particular times. For a person who is unclear about who they are and where they are, what is good and right can be unclear as well. In a sense having an ethical code is more difficult than having a moral one since morality is often imposed upon us.
In many religious traditions particularly in Islam, Judaism and Christianity absolute ethical positions are based on the interpretation of supposedly sacred texts. In classical Asian thought this would be a foreign concept. Three thousand years ago Taoist and Buddhist thinkers saw ethics in less absolutist terms.Religious values and morality are seen as synonymous by many people, particularly those who see themselves as deeply religious. They are, however, not the same. Gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, or pre-emptive military strikes such as that of the US on Saddam Hussein are highly controversial topics.
Different individuals with strong moral values might view each of these issues differently. One must explore and distinguish between many perspectives on what is or is not ethical.
The lines of distinction between various forms of ethical theory (meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics for instance) can be quite blurry. For example, abortion can be seen as unethical from a certain religious or spiritual perspective, but it is quite ethical when seen in relation to other issues such as rights of self-rule, scientific
definitions of when life begins, freedom of a woman to make choices concerning her body, rights of the individual vs. rights of the state, the separation of church and state and the important questions of “where do rights come from?”
and “what kind of beings have rights?”
There is a saying, ‘many of the roads to hell are paved with good intentions.’ If a person behaves with good intentions, bad things may still happen to others because of the choices they made. The question one must explore here is accountability versus forgiveness. Clear-cut as some ethical beliefs may be, ethics of an act but on the result of such behavior. This concept related to results of an act is called “ethical luck.”
Here is an example of ethical luck? Imagine a person robs a store with a loaded gun. This person may commit the act knowing that they may shoot someone if they deem it necessary but the robbery takes place without a shot being fired. This might be considered no more than armed robbery no matter what the person’s intention may be. Now imagine another person who robs a store with an unloaded gun. This person may commit the act knowing that under no circumstance would they shoot someone. During the robbery, the store’s proprietor seeing the gun has a heart attack and dies. This might be considered manslaughter, even murder, no matter whether there was any intention to physically harm anyone. The act of robbery with a gun is obvious and in some courts of law may be seen as equally wrong in each case, but its dependence on chance affects the level to which the person committing the crime is held responsible. This is ethical luck!
The concept of a culturally specific ethical and moral system was first addressed in the West in 1930 by W.D. Ross in his book, The Right and the Good. Ross points out, as the Eastern Sages did, that generally speaking, moral theories cannot address if an action is right or wrong but only whether it might be right or wrong according to a specific kind of moral duty such as fidelity, justice, fairness, or beneficence. To understand the Eastern perspective concerning ethics it may be useful to explore the Australian philosopher Peter Singer’s thoughts on what ethics is not. It is Singer’s position that:
- Ethicsis not a moral code particular to a sectional group
- It is not alist of prohibitions related to sexual behavior imposed by a religiousorder.
- A so-called ethical system that is conceptually evolved and noble in theory but ineffective and repressive is unnatural and possibly unethical because it is so unnatural.
Because ethical standards can vary from culture to culture it is difficult to even speak about ethics in relationship to personal awareness, or the concepts of enlightenment or self actualization.
It is a fact that what may be a rule of moral behavior in one culture may be seen as immoral in another. Each culture has rituals, symbols and myths that it holds to be sacred. These often reflect the changes in the seasons and may be associated with sacred days and specific modes of expression and creativity.
Understanding another culture can be a complex and daunting task. Here are just a few unique cultural patterns.
• An individual is expected to hide illness from strangers.
• It is considered offensive for a male doctor to physically examine a female patient.
• At Oakwood Hospital in heavily Muslim Dearborn Michigan nurses are trained to turn Muslim patients’ beds towards Mecca.
However, no matter how the ethics and morality of a particular society may change, or how our individual experience of life may vary the behavior that brings one closer to self-actualization never wavers.
In its descriptive sense, “morality” refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores. There is no objective definition of right and wrong here. It only refers to that which is considered right or wrong. Within academia this is known as Descriptive ethics. In its normative sense, “morality” refers to whatever (if anything) is actually right or wrong, which may be independent of the values or mores held by any particular peoples or cultures. It is a more absolutist approach in that it demands that one acknowledge that there is right and wrong in the objective sense. Normative ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies morality from this perspective.
In order to strategize in life one must understand concepts of right and wrong, social intelligence and personal responsibility. An exploration of any ideas related to morality and ethics is a valuable thing for it helps us to make the most effective choices.
Lewis Harrison is an author, motivational speaker, mentor and coach. You can reach him at LewisCoaches@gmail.com
He offers stress management programs throughout the United States and his corporate chair massage company, eventschairmassage.com provides seated and chair massage for stress management seminars and trainings as well as to special events for event planners, meeting planners and meeting professionals in New York City at the Javits’Center, and in, New Jersey Las Veges, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Greensboro NC, Florida and other major meeting and conventions venues.
View a video of Lewis at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxR46jTjPGY
His book “Spiritual, Not Religious: Sacred Tools for Modern Time” addresses important issues on human potential and personal development