ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Linkage between Attitude and Ethics

Before I even give formal definitions of these two words, let me tell you in more detail why I decided to link them together. With the right attitude – which is to do your best, do no harm, treat people fairly and be honest in all you do – you are naturally ethical.
If we could convince everyone to behave with this positive attitude, there probably would be 95% less car accidents, burglaries, or other crimes.
Ethics is a set of rules. Attitude comes from the heart and mind.

In our business organizations we frequently have a code of values – if you think about it, those values require specific attitudes and behaviors. Without the right attitude – or frame of mind if you prefer – the values are given lip service at best.

When we talk about “walking our talk” we are stating the importance of integrity – an attitude which dictates a set of behavior.

One can follow the rules – but have a lousy attitude doing so.

Let me show you what I mean:

Example 1: Time to Check Out

I was conducting a series of workshops for a county agency. One of the workshops met regularly on Wednesday from 3 – 5 p.m. Quitting time for this organization was 5 p.m.

Each week one of the participants folded up her notebook, took out her purse, applied lipstick, closed the purse and sat with her hands folded waiting for 5 p.m. She did this over and over again at 4:45. By the way, she was the union representative – someone who should have been setting a fine example…well, maybe she was setting the example she thought was correct.

Technically, she was waiting for the bell to ring. Attitude said, what was being discussed in the workshop didn’t matter to her – and she didn’t owe her employer the fifteen minutes she was sitting there – she just had to follow the rules and not leave before 5 p.m.

Ethics are a set of rules. Attitude is living a principled life.

Now that I’ve given you an example of a poor attitude – let me share what I observed of a fabulously positive workplace attitude.

Example 2: Great Customer Service

I spent several minutes many times in the lobby of one of the buildings of a business that was my client, waiting to be escorted in to my meeting with the general manager. So, I had ample opportunity to watch the lobby receptionist in action. Let me tell you about just two of many observations I made:
  •        An employee left her briefcase in the lobby. Instead of ignoring it, or merely giving it to lost and found, the receptionist called the employee to tell her that she had her briefcase and was keeping it in a safe place until it could be retrieved.
  •        A family whose members appeared to be very poor and in need because of the way they were dressed came into the lobby. Instead of having them removed, or being short with them, she spoke with them as kindly as she did with me or any other executive coming in. The adults were looking for work. She directed them to the correct building, gave them a hand-drawn map, and also the name of the person they should ask for. Customer service at its best.
Defining Our Terms

Ethics stands somewhere in the middle of morality and law. It is a code of behavior that includes areas specific to a particular profession, business, or association. There are differences in ethical codes people are asked to sign – including those in employee handbooks.

Webster’s says:

Moral: (1) Pertaining to, or concerned with right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong. (2) Concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct.

Morality: (1) Conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct. (2) Virtue in sexual matters; chastity a moral quality of character.

Ethic: (1) The body of moral principles or values governing or distinctive of a particular culture or group. (2) A complex of moral precepts held or rules of conduct followed by an individual.

Ethical: (1) Pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong conduct. (2) In accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, especially the standards of a profession.

Attitude: (1) Manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation especially of the mind. (2) Position or posture of the body appropriate to or expressive of an action, emotion, etc.

Moral Decisions

When I looked up morality in Wikipedia I found a fascinating series of articles written by Sir Bernard Williams. He wrote many books in his attempt to understand and explain morality and ethics. Borrowing from him, I want to offer you one of his examples and then his explanations:

Example: Whom Do You Kill?

(Williams says) take the case of Jim, a botanist doing research in a South American country led by a brutal dictator. Unfortunately, Jim eventually finds himself in a small town facing 20 Indian rebels who have been captured and tied up as examples of what will happen to others. The captain, who has arrested them, says that if Jim will kill one, the others will be released in honor of Jim’s status as a guest, but if he does not they will all be killed.

Williams hypothesizes that “the utilitarian would favor Jim killing one of the men.” Williams argued against this saying in part: “the utilitarian…turning us into empty vessels by means of which consequences occur, rather than preserving our status as moral actors…moral decisions must preserve our psychological identity and integrity.

I offer you that example, because I so thoroughly agree that our moral decisions must preserve our psychological identity and integrity. I love that phrase.

As a child, when I asked my parents for advice about something pertaining to right and wrong their answer almost always was: “you have to look yourself in the mirror.” Decide accordingly.


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