Business ethics: do what’s right, or what’s right now?
Business ethics is a tricky area because the point of business, to produce a profit, often conflicts with what might be termed ethical. Ethicists rarely have a strong grasp of business or life outside of idealized environments. Managers and executives rarely have enough spare time to sit down and read Aristotle, Nietzsche or Thomas Aquinas. Provided below are three easy questions that you can ask yourself when deciding if a decision is ethical. Everyone makes decisions; sometimes an unethical decision must be made. It’s a fact of life and no one can go around living like Socrates doing only what is ethical, moral, and just. What’s provided is not a set of standards to be achieved, but rather a method to weigh your decision to find out if it is worth it to you.
Would you accept the explanation from your kids?
It’s been said, “That’s the way the world works, if you want to compete this is what you have to do,” when trying to justify a decision that is unethical but increases competitive advantage. In reality, this is the adult equivalent of saying, “But all my friends are doing it.” So, is the decision you are about to make one in which you would want your child to make, or is the justification for your decision one that you would accept from your child when he or she has done something that goes against your instruction?
Also, remember, as managers and executives you have a hand in making the world what it is. By working hard and progressing in your profession you have earned the ability to make choices for yourself and for others. No one can change the world, and you owe it to your shareholders and employees to earn a profit. But, you owe it to those people, yourself, and your family to act ethically. So as a decision maker, you have to decide, and have the ability to decide, which is more important at any one time.
Will it make you happier?
Happiness is a tricky thing in that you don’t often know what makes you happy, except from experience. Some think money will make them happy only to find out that once they get it they’re not that much happier, if at all, than when first starting out. To make an ethical decision you must decide what will make you happy. In following in the footsteps of Socrates; what makes us happy is what makes us better people. You become better, and thus happier, when your higher desires – such as the desire for justice, moderation and courage – guide base desires – such as hunger or sexual attraction. If your higher desires do not guide your base desires you will be led to gluttony and debauchery. Everyone gets hungry, but you don’t need to eat yourself into a coma as though everyday is Thanksgiving. Moderation is a higher desire, which guides the base desire of hunger. No one can tell you what will make you happy, or when you are following your base desires instead of your higher desire, you must know thyself.
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