Imagine you were in a restaurant with a group of friends and some new acquaintances, celebrating someone’s birthday. A couple at a table within your line of sight enjoyed their meal and left a tip on their table before heading out. The staff hadn’t cleared the table yet. A newer member of your party left the table and walked towards the bathroom, past the uncleared table and just as you looked in his direction, you noticed he quickly slipped the money that had been left for the waiter into his pocket.
What would you do? Challenge him directly? Mention it to your mutual friend? Say nothing, but as time passes, this knowledge sits uncomfortably with you and you feel a nagging sense of unease, that you have let this act of theft pass without addressing it?
This is an ethical dilemma, which has some similarities to one I was faced with recently, however it provoked stronger feelings as it was about someone I know well. Straight away, I realised that I needed to act, and spent a day working out how to address the situation; my mind looking for alternative solutions but knowing that the impact would be great. This person threw a heavy stone which inevitably had a dramatic ripple effect in what was a millpond.
Reflecting, I tried to discover why I was so disturbed, and make sense of my emotions. Why was I so upset by what happened? Apart from the direct impact this situation will have, why did I feel like this? It comes down to values, morals and ethics.
Values are our thoughts, our beliefs and our priorities. These impact our behaviours. Should we act in a way which does not align with our values, we feel a sense of unease. They may change as our priorities are likely to also do in life, and therefore should be reviewed regularly to ensure we are living a life that is fully in line with our values.
Our morals are how we judge others, based on our personal upbringing and our sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. We each have a clear moral compass guiding us, standards of conduct based upon expectations of behaviour and we know in our hearts if an action is morally wrong.
Ethics and morals are closely linked. However ethics are generally linked to an acceptable way of behaving within an external source, such as principles in religion, rules in a group, or code of conduct in a workplace.
My own position is clear. I can be assured that acting on my instinct and following these principles has lead me to do the ‘right thing’ in this particular situation. I have complete confidence in the ability of people to transform their lives and live fully, in line with what they believe. When they do that, my clients can say with certainty, “I Value Me”.