The Foundation of Ethics – Right and Wrong, True and False
Over my sixty-plus years I have certainly been exposed to a number of viewpoints on the subjects of ethics, right and wrong! No less important have been the definitions of true and false. I subscribe to the Ten Commandments as the yardstick for ethics which have been deeply rooted and disseminated throughout the ages. Although there are many examples that expose humanity’s imperfections, there is a truth that supersedes all the confusion, all the fuzzy justifications that stand in the way of humanity’s justification to do the right thing. If we consider some of the core principles that are listed in the commandments such as,
• do not kill,
• do not steal,
• tell the truth,
• do not seek to take someone else’s property or desire to do so,
• do not aspire to place a person on a pedestal over another person,
a truly firm foundation for sound ethics is laid. I find solace in the New Testament command to “love one another”. Taken together with the Ten Commandments, the “love” commandment further humanizes our ethics response. We are called to treat everyone equally and with respect.
The moral principles that govern our activities are the ethics that shape our lives. There is no distinction between personal ethics and organizational ethics. The strongest examples that shape my business ethics are embodied in those whom I respect and look to as mentors.
My Father, Robert Fjelsted - Exuded Integrity
My father was a firm believer in being honest, truthful, and respectful to everyone. My earliest memories are of my father making sure that all sides of a discussion or argument were heard. This is not to say that my father didn’t have strong opinions and convictions. Indeed, he was very concise and clear in his thinking, whether it was politics, the way to build trusses for a roof, or solve a hard engineering problem. The key traits of my father’s ethics and integrity were all related to caring for others, listening to others, and holding up the truth as paramount. One of the most vivid memories that I have of my father’s ethics goes to the heart of respecting property and individuals. My father was always reminding me that the key to honoring commitments is within the key to respecting others. This means that in all relationships whether they are personal or business, the reality of respect comes down to respecting the individuals.
Mr. Duane Johnson - High School Drama Teacher
Mr. Johnson was also known as Mr. J by every student who ever crossed his path. Mr. J was my high school drama teacher who dominated my life for my junior and senior year. Mr. J was a pioneer who developed a television studio in our high school before most people outside of a professional television station had seen a video recorder. He also directed three plays a year and taught teamwork through theater. Mr. J always looked to recognize the best in everyone through tough coaching. I remember once that there was an actor who wasn’t projecting on stage very well. Mr. J’s solution during one rehearsal was to have the stage manager begin to saw small pieces of wood using a table saw that was on stage. Then Mr. J would ask the actor to repeat the lines at the same time while also standing on stage. Mr. J stood at the back of the auditorium and shouted, “I can’t hear you!” Mr. J encouraged the actor to speak louder.
Mr. J would always demand excellence through encouragement. There was no one who was not important. Even though there was competition for excellence, everyone knew that they were part of the team.
Mr. J knew how to delegate. If someone was assigned to handle the ticket sales, that meant that they were responsible for the entire process including managing the thousands of dollars that passed through the window. There was absolute trust and absolute expectation that there would be no issues. If Mr. J loaned his master key to all the locks in the school to someone whom he asked to complete a task, he was confident that there would be no problem. No one wanted to violate that trust.
The Goal is Excellence and Respect
There is no quick solution or fix for business ethics. There is only the foundation of trust and respect. Without morals and integrity, humanity has no foundation for ethics. In our personal, interpersonal and business dealings we have a choice. We can succeed through the application of well-founded ethics, or fail through the act of drifting, shifting confusion.