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Doing an Ethics Checkup

How Can You Know Whether You’re Doing the Right Thing?

Periodically, we all go to our doctor to check our health. We make sure all systems are operating as intended. The same should be done with our ethical self. Have we done whatever we can to do the right thing, help others in need, and transcend our own interests to reach out and improve the lives of others?

What does an ethics checkup entail? Here are just a few suggestions.

Have you been honest with yourself and others? We often tell ourselves an untruth to make acceptance of an action more palatable. For example, assume a coworker asks you out on a date. You like the person but not in a romantic way. Do you admit that or make up an excuse such as: I have another commitment? The problem here is deflecting won’t satisfy the coworker and they’re likely to ask you out again. It’s best to be honest from the start and share your true feelings. Be diplomatic. You’re not out to hurt them.

Have you been kind to others? We gain more happiness and greater meaning in life when we do good deeds for others. This could be a random act of kindness such as taking a new employee out to lunch on their first day. Another kind act is to pay it forward. Let’s assume the work group you head completes a project and the question is whether to take full credit and give them only a footnote or give credit where credit is due. By allocating credit truthfully you set the tone that this the way business should get done and others should do the same. Core Values checkup1

Have you behaved responsibly on social media? Our actions on social media say a lot about our character. Ask yourself whether you have engaged with others respectfully and in a civil manner. Actions such as ghosting are not acceptable. Acting in this way is disrespectful to the other person because you have ignored their needs. Don’t blow someone off because you’re too lazy to respond, don’t care about that person’s feelings, or rationalize that ‘everyone does it.’ We shouldn’t base our actions on the lowest common denominator.  Ghosting has become a social media issue for many who choose to take the easy way out. Ask yourself: How would you feel if a dating partner ignored your attempts to follow-up on the relationship or a potential employer hired someone else and didn’t feel obligated to let you know?

Have you accepted responsibility for your actions? This can be the most difficult act for people. Assume that you made a mistake at work and are reluctant to admit it because it may reflect negatively on your competence and affect your job standing. You may be tempted to take the easy way out and not admit the mistake. Maybe your boss won’t catch it. Why raise a red flag when you do something wrong? However, ignoring the mistake can lead to a cover-up and you begin the slide down the proverbial “ethical slippery slope” where it’s difficult to reverse course and reclaim the moral high ground. I always tell my students: Ethics is about what we do when no one is looking. An ethical person admits their mistake, accepts responsibility, makes amends,  and promises not to do it again.

Have you done something positively to give back to your community or society? Many people volunteer to help their community. Many more donate funds to charitable causes. Have you done one or the other this week or month? I believe we should be responsible for our neighbor’s happiness and when we act to improve their well-being it adds meaning to our lives. We are held in high esteem.

There’s a lot more to an ethics checkup and, to some extent, it depends on each person and the activities they engage in -- or do not but should. The key is to be aware that your actions, decisions, and the words you speak affect the well-being of others whether in interpersonal relationships, workplace interactions, and on social media speak. Your character defines who you are. Remember the guiding principle of The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish they would treat you.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 25, 2019. Follow Steve on Facebook and “Like” his page. Visit Steve’s website sign up for his newsletter, and you can preorder his new book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.