Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What it means to be a person of good character.

Poost 410 - In Michael Josephson’s book, Making Ethical Decisions, he lists the six pillars of character as: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. He goes on to describe how to use these values as a multi-level filter in our decision-making. Being trustworthy isn’t enough - we must be caring as well. Following the letter of the law isn’t enough - we must also accept responsibility for our action or lack of action. Thus we can identify situations where we focus so hard on upholding one principle that we sacrifice another - where we’re so intent on holding others accountable, we ignore the duty to be compassionate; where, intent on getting a job done, we ignore how we go about doing it.

Let’s follow Josephson’s logic so we can get a better understanding of what it takes to be a person of good character:

1. Trustworthiness

When people trust us, they give us greater leeway because they feel they don’t have to watch us to be sure we’ll meet our obligations. Since they believe in us, they hold us in higher esteem than others. So to constantly live up to their expectations, we must refrain from telling even small lies or engaging in other forms of self-serving behavior, otherwise it will quickly destroy our special relationship. However, simply refraining from deception isn’t enough. Trustworthiness also includes a variety of qualities like honesty, integrity, reliability and loyalty.

Honesty is a broad concept involving both communications and conduct.

• Honesty in communications means telling the truth as best we know it and not telling it in a way that’s likely to mislead or deceive. There are three dimensions to this:

- Truthfulness.
Truthfulness is presenting the facts to the best of our knowledge. Intent is what’s important here. Being wrong isn’t the same thing as lying, although honest mistakes can still damage trust insofar as they may show sloppy judgment.

- Sincerity.
Sincerity is genuineness, being without trickery or duplicity. It excludes half-truths, out-of-context statements, and even silence, when it’s intended to create beliefs or leave impressions that are untrue or misleading.

- Candor.
Sometimes relationships require us to be frank and forthright. This imposes an obligation to volunteer information that another person needs to know but to do it in a compassionate and caring way.

• Honesty in conduct means playing by the rules, without stealing, cheating, fraud, subterfuge and other trickery. Cheating involves not only seeking to deceive but also taking advantage of those who aren’t cheating, and as such is a violation of both trust and fairness.

• Integrity.

There’s no difference in how a person of integrity makes decisions in different situations, at work or at home, in public or alone. The events and crises of the day don’t determine the course of his moral life. He stays in control. He may be courteous, even charming, but he never does it to deceive. He never flatters those who might do him some good. He’s trusted because everyone knows who he is: what you see is what you get.

• Reliability.

When we make promises or other commitments that create a legitimate basis for another person to rely upon us, we accept the responsibility of making all reasonable efforts to fulfill our commitments. Because promise-keeping is such an important aspect of trustworthiness, it's important to:

- Avoid bad-faith excuses. Interpret your promises fairly and honestly. Don’t try to rationalize non-compliance.

- Avoid unwise commitments. Before making a promise, consider carefully whether you’re willing and likely to keep it. Think about future events that could make it difficult, undesirable or impossible. Sometimes, all we can promise is to do our best.

- Avoid unclear commitments. Be sure when you make a promise, that the other person understands what you’re committing to do.

• Loyalty.

Loyalty is a responsibility to promote the interests of certain people, organizations or affiliations. This duty goes beyond the normal obligation we all share to care for others.

- Limitations to loyalty. Friends, employers, co-workers and others may demand that we rank their interests above ethical considerations. But no one has the right to ask another to sacrifice ethical principles in the name of a special relationship.

- Prioritizing loyalties.
Since many individuals and groups make loyalty claims on us, we must rank our obligations in some rational fashion. For example, it’s reasonable and ethical to look out for the interests of our children, parents and spouses even if we have to subordinate our obligations to other children, neighbors or co-workers in doing so.

- Safeguarding confidential information.
Loyalty requires us to keep some information confidential. When keeping a secret breaks the law or threatens others, however, we can have a responsibility to "blow the whistle."

- Avoiding conflicting interests.
Elected officials and public servants have a duty to make all professional decisions on merit, unimpeded by conflicting personal interests. They ultimately owe their loyalty to the public.

Tomorrow, we’ll deal with respect and responsibility.


Ed said...

Excellent points. Don't stop saying them. We need a good deal more in our society.
I too have been spending much of my time trying to influence as many people as possible about the importance of being true to values in our society. I am not pushing my latest book, but as an example of what I believe is right and needed. Please allow me to share a brief synopsis of "The Value of Values". Thanks.
The Value of Values

An individual’s values are established in childhood and serve as filters when determining right from wrong throughout the person’s life. In today’s society, the process of establishing values within children is given little concern. People place greater emphasis on day to day activities and personal ambitions, than they do on the establishment of values within their children. By default, parents are teaching their children that values such as integrity, respect for life, courage of conviction, a purposeful life and generosity, are secondary to making a living.

In truth, it does not have to be this way. It is a matter of choice.

The “The Value of Values” teaches us why a values-conscious society is important. You will learn the actions that are needed. You will learn how to sustain the drive.
“The Value of Values” is a must read for every parent concerned about the direction of our society and the challenges our children will be facing.

Ed states: “we have three possible choices”.
1) “Do nothing different than that which we have been doing. Complacently accept things as they are and will be.”
2) “Hope that our leaders will guide society in the proper direction despite the fact that they place values second to ambitions.”
3) “Accept our personal responsibility to our children. Accept that real change is not passed down from leaders, but rather, it is driven up from the people. Accept the fact that we each have within us the ability to make things different for generations to come.”

“The choices we make today will determine the society of tomorrow.”

john cotter said...

I totally agree with you Ed. Hope your book is a big seller. Thanks for your comments