Ethical decisions are difficult because they involve value-centered life issues that cannot be grasped solely through empirical/objective means. Since there is more to life than spending, getting, and having life must not be equated to the amount of material wealth we amass. There have been instances where the numbers was the guide and the results were disastrous (e.g. most recently Toyota, BP). In short, the numbers alone can’t be the guide.
Accordingly, the ethical person understands that meaning, not just the issue of means, underlies decisions in life. Such a person has a moral compass as the guide. However, to be guided by a sense of morality, not only must we be aware of our inherent rights as living beings, we must develop a corresponding system of values upon which sound decisions can be made. Following such a system we can often avoid taking action that will violate the rights of others.
Hence, sound ethical decision-making requires a developed self, where at minimum we are developed morally, emotionally and cognitively. So, if we intend to enhance our ethical decision-making abilities, we must integrate these ways of perceiving and knowing. As we make decisions, we must seek to understand not only what we think and feel about what is seen and heard, but also what others may experience.
Also viewing things from different perspectives enables us to better understand the rights at risk of violation. But this requires that we suspend our point of view to fully comprehend—intellectually, emotionally and morally—the experiences and perspectives of others. Accordingly, as our understanding becomes fuller we correspondingly enhance the soundness of our decisions.
Sound ethical decision-making is diminished when we are imprisoned by group-centric and socially patterned beliefs and assumptions. Such constraints to thinking create bias and a rush to judgment.
When bias is allowed to shade perspective, the fullness of issues cannot be brought to light, and the situation can never be adequately understood. And, as understanding diminishes, so too does the soundness of our actions. The recent incident with Ms. Sherrod perfectly illustrates this point. The bias in the decisions by so many—from Andrew Breitbart to Tom Vilsack and everyone in between—violated the inherent rights of Ms. Sherrod. Each folded under group-centric pressure treating her as an object for self-serving purposes.
Identifying values and embodying them are quite different things. Integrity requires putting into practice our espoused values as we face both the material and non-material aspects in life. But, if what we espouse are just words—if we have no moral and emotional grounding—we won’t be able to comprehend the meaning of trust, respect and honesty; they will be empty and meaningless words. Without internalizing these, integrity becomes impossible and greed becomes probable. We must go beyond simply ordering our priorities according to egocentric impulses and socio-economic demands for material success.
As we become attached to thoughts and things, we come to believe them to be necessities. Thus, we believe them to be rights and in turn they supplant our inherent human rights. When this occurs, we inhibit our ability to develop a system of values—a system for ethical conduct—that can guide our actions.
Making decisions reflective of integrity does not require the acquisition of skill as much as it requires moral, emotional and intellectual development, as well as the courage to act according to espoused values—especially when group pressures say otherwise.
Many erroneously assume perception provides unadulterated reality when in fact it is filtered by unexamined thoughts and assumptions. To enhance the soundness of our decisions, we must develop the courage to think freely while taking in, without judgment, all relevant perspectives. So we must suspend and not defend our point of view to gain a fuller understanding of the situations we face. Then and only then will we increase the likelihood of making a sound decision.