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Using A CURE Approach to Enhance Ethical Behavior

The Keys to Building Emotional Intelligence

I previously blogged about how and why empathy and compassion are critical components of ethical leadership. However, this is only one-half of the story about how approaching ethics from an emotional level can enhance ethical leadership. Ethical leaders also need cognitive skills to make judgments about how best to resolve problems ethically. The cognitive side of the equation is an extension of empathy and it is essential to put into practice behavioral characteristics that enhance understanding of one’s situation and respect for the rights of others.

In this blog, I propose that the acronym CURE can be used to focus attention on four ethical values that can foster ethical behavior whether it relates to ethical leadership or just treating others the way we wish to be treated—the Golden Rule. The components of the acronym are as follows:

C = compassion

U = understanding

R = respect

E = empathy

Taken together, we can think of CURE as building a character-based ethic as the foundation of ethical decision-making.

Empathy & Compassion

Empathy builds strong relationships. At its most basic level, empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experiences of others. Empathy addresses the need to relate to and embrace meeting the needs of others, and this is where understanding comes into play. The key is to exercise good judgment to address issues raised and resolve ethical dilemmas that arise in our personal as well as professional lives.

Empathetic behavior tends to be an automatic response to someone else’s problems. There isn’t a lot of thought given to ways to help resolve challenging issues, unless the individual with the ethical issue realizes an action should be taken to show empathy and make things better for the other person.

There are two types of empathy in psychology: emotional empathy and cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy means identifying with another person’s emotions and feeling distress in response. Cognitive empathy means understanding another person’s perspective, attitudes, and opinions gained through knowledge, not emotion. According to Tony Robbins, an American author, coach, speaker, and philanthropist, “cognitive empathy is closely related to emotional intelligence.”  

Emotional Intelligence is how we respond to our challenges, express our emotions, and interact with others, and is more than just a gut reaction. Our responses are key skills we can use to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others. These skills inform Emotional Intelligence and have been defined by Daniel Goleman, psychologist and best-selling author, as the ability to recognize and manage our own emotions as well as the ability to identify, understand, and influence the feelings of others. Blog-CURE

Compassion is more constructive than empathy. It starts with empathy and then turns outward. The intent to help others underlies compassionate behavior. A compassionate person tends to be more trustworthy and responsible. In other words, they care about how they can translate empathetic and compassionate feelings into concrete actions.

Mike Robbins writes in his book, We’re All in This Together, that compassion can be described as “empathy in action.” He says that: “While empathy is about understanding and feeling the emotions of others, compassion is about wanting to contribute to their happiness and well-being”.


The Josephson Institute of Ethics considers respect to be one of its “Six Pillars of Character”, along with trustworthiness, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. According to Josephson, respect exists when the following behaviors are followed in dealing with others.

  • Follow the Golden Rule.
  • Be accepting of differences.
  • Be courteous of others.
  • Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements.
  • Be considerate of others’ feelings.

These characteristic traits of behavior are part of showing kindness towards others, which builds on empathy and compassion on a deeper level.

The Ethics Centre rightly points out that respect, on a basic level, means to be polite, considerate and mindful of another person. It can also be expected from others as a mark of deference to their rank, seniority, experience or standing. For example, most people have heard of the expressions: “respect your elders”, “show a little respect”, or “with all due respect”.

It’s clear, at least to me, that there has been a decline in the respect shown to others throughout all societies in recent years. We used to think respect was a given, most likely based on someone being in a position of authority (i.e., political leader, religious leader, teacher). However, over the years respect has been viewed through the lens of earning it through one's actions. In other words, there may be corrupt politicians who shouldn't be respected. I like the Japanese approach: While respect is earned in Japanese culture, honor is owed. Respect is based on how someone performs while honor is based on someone's position.

Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative of universalizability provides that you should "act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”. This simply means that if you do an action, then everyone else should also be able and willing to do it. In Kantian ethics, the dignity of all people is recognized and triggers these and other behaviors. It is hard to imagine how universality can exist without being an empathetic and compassionate person, and to respect others as human beings.

Being respectful of others means to be open to empathetic and compassionate behavior. It means to be a caring person. How does one become empathetic, compassionate, respectful and a caring person? First, you need to understand where someone is coming from. It’s been suggested that to do so a person should “walk a mile in someone else's shoes”, meaning before judging someone, you must understand that person’s experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc. What are their concerns and how can you most effectively address them. This is where understanding on a cognitive level is so important.


In one sense, understanding is the culmination of all elements of CURE. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People recognizes the importance of understanding others. His fifth habit is: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. Blog CURE-understanding

Covey believes that “if you want to improve your interpersonal relations…you must endeavor to understand a situation before attempting to make yourself understood”. The key is to be a good listener, a skill that can be learned with practice and over time. An understanding person listens to others without making them feel manipulated. According to Covey, “While most people listen with the intent of replying, the proficient listener will listen with the intent to understand. He refers to this as “empathetic listening”. In this way, you can communicate your ideas in accordance with your listener’s standards and concerns. He points out that by doing so, you can increase your credibility and build trust.

Character Ethic

The four attributes of CURE together make up a character ethic that creates the framework for ethical behavior. Once you develop these traits, the next step to be fully ethical is to be honest, trustworthy, and act responsibly towards others. Being an empathetic and compassionate person plays into being honest, trustworthy, and accountable for one’s actions.

Covey claims that character needs to be cultivated to achieve success in dealing with others. He states: “What we are says far more than what we say or do”. This “Character Ethic” is based on a series of principles, such as to respect the rights of others, treat others fairly, do no harm and so on.

I believe by using the CURE acronym, students and professionals can better recall the underlying tenets of ethical behavior on both an emotional and cognitive level. These attributes of ethical behavior help build emotional intelligence. They can contribute to the wellbeing of oneself and others.

Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on October 27, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.