Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some final thoughts on character.

Post 412 - "In great affairs, men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small things they show themselves as they are." - Nicholas Chamfort

Michael Josephson’s book, Making Ethical Decisions, lists the six pillars of character as: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. Today, we’ll review the last three.

4. Fairness.

Fairness is probably the subject of more legitimate debate and interpretation than any of the other ethical values listed here. It involves issues of equality, impartiality, proportionality, openness and due process. For example, it’s unfair to handle similar matters in an inconsistent way. And it’s unfair to impose a punishment that doesn’t fit the offense. Essentially, fairness means adhering to a balanced standard of justice without considering our own feelings and inclinations.

- Process

A fair person uses open and impartial processes to gather and evaluate the information he needs to make a decision. He doesn’t wait for the truth to come to him; rather, he looks for relevant information and evaluates conflicting perspectives before making an important judgment.

- Impartiality

A fair person strives to make decisions without favoritism or prejudice.

- Equity

A fair person corrects his mistakes, quickly and voluntarily. He knows it’s wrong to take advantage of the weakness or ignorance of others.

5. Caring.

Ethics is ultimately about good relations with other people and caring is at the heart of ethical decision-making. People who lack a caring attitude rarely feel an obligation to be honest, loyal, fair or respectful in their relationships except when it’s prudent for them to do so. When we really care, we feel an emotional response to both the pain and the pleasure of others.

Sometimes we hurt those we really care about when our decisions cause them pain. In these instances, we shouldn’t cause any more harm than is absolutely necessary while carrying out our duties.

6. Citizenship.

Citizenship includes virtues and duties determining how we should behave as part of a community. The good citizen knows and obeys the laws, but that isn’t all. He also stays informed on the issues of the day so he can better fulfill his responsibilities as a member of a self-governing democratic society. He volunteers and does more than his "fair" share to make the society work, both now and in the future. The good citizen gives more than he takes. He believes, as did Dwight D. Eisenhower, that "There’s nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence, and energy of her citizens cannot cure."

Being of exemplary character is easier to write about than to put into practice. Yet, people like my late friend, Armon Kamesar, seemed to live a life that was true to most of these virtues most of the time. As such, his example gives the rest of us hope and energy to try to do better. As John Quincy Adams said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

In all human affairs, there are efforts and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result.

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