Moral behavior requires understanding the difference between right and wrong, and acting accordingly. However, right versus wrong can only be assessed in relation to a system of values. But this does not mean that morality is relativistic. If it was, we could not say any act is morally wrong since we would have to accept all value systems even those harmful to others.
Since people abhor the exploitation, manipulation, and destruction of life, we must acknowledge the existence of a universal set of (moral) values that are applicable to all of humankind. Obviously there is something in all of us that informs us of what is right in honor of life. In this light, moral issues concern a universal ‘we’ not what’s in it for ‘me’ or ‘us’.
Thus, to speak of moral behavior is to speak of behavior that is consistent with life-affirming values—values that are in harmony with the nature of all that is alive. To lead morally is to make choices consistent with life-centered values and not values that are external in life. Clearly, morality has no meaning in a world of things.
Many mistakenly believe there are different values for different roles we assume in life. The decisions they make in their role as a businessperson reference a different set of values than the values they reference in their role as a friend or parent. While we would disapprove of those who discard their family or friends in an effort to elevate their status, position or income, many often applaud similar decisions in business—Wall Street cheering the elimination of people’s jobs. Sadly they are oblivious to the contradiction.
Ethical Code of Conduct
The more our ethics in business differ from the life-centered values inherent in our nature, the greater harm we inflict upon ‘we’. The more discordant principles of conduct and moral values are the greater the likelihood that life-threatening problems will occur.
Since people can’t live a divided life and remain whole, many become numb to their inherent humanistic values to avoid feeling conflicted. Appeals to the practical material side of things seem to justify behavior that is incongruent with espoused-values. Often, the mentality of the herd—a hiding behind ‘us’ often seen in say groupthink—predominates over values-based reason as a guide.
The ethical principles upon which our businesses are run must be aligned with the values upon which life is sustained. The more we ignore or deny this the more harm we inflict on society, and inevitably ourselves.
As we turn the focus of our attention toward amassing things we lose touch with life itself, becoming alienated from our self and each other. As alienation increases, we lose all perspective on living, and with this loss, our ability to make morally sound decisions diminishes. Correspondingly, as this behavior becomes normative, we unknowingly become increasingly irresponsible.
Accordingly, we routinely disregard the long term—ignoring the far-reaching effects of a decision—for the sake of expediency in pursuit of profit. In effect, the pursuit of material wealth is set against life it self. We confuse means and ends as we foolishly elevate our material wants to the status of a right.
If an organization is to remain viable, its behavior must become unquestionably life affirming—a business of a different mind. Those in authority must be integrative in their decision-making process by taking both multiple and far-reaching perspectives when choosing a course of action. Specifically, deciding the right course of action among alternatives requires the guidance of a system of values. The decision process must integrate life-affirming values and the material needs for economic sustainability. It is not an either/or issue, nor is it a balancing act.
With profit not being enough for progress, the awakened leader realizes that action that marginalizes life is action that is detrimental to both the viability of humankind and the business enterprise—the latter depends upon the former. Morality is not contrary to sustaining viability, its foundational to it.
How can the moral bottom line and the material bottom line be integrated?