Ethics is not one part of life, but rather a way of looking at life.
As we encounter life’s challenges, whether big or small, there are at least three important questions that we are trying to figure out:
1. What is the most ethically justified way to move forward in this situation?
2. What does it mean for me to be a good person (and how does this touch on the choice I make)?
3. What is a good, meaningful life (and how does the situation relate to living such a life)?
Of course, we cannot settle all or even any of these questions quickly. But we shape our views about these questions in the small steps we take as we encounter life every day. The conversations we have and the tools we use to help us make decisions must make room for these three questions.
Integrity, state of mind, and meaning
Most of us know when our integrity is compromised because our state of mind is disturbed. We have peace of mind when what is happening in our lives aligns with what matters to us in life.
Our state of mind is disturbed when we are confused about what should matter and/or when what does matter isn’t happening for us.
This is a journey that involves interpretation. It is the exercise of understanding and negotiating the multiple overlapping yet diverse historical and contemporary traditions and systems of values and beliefs that we encounter in the world every day.
To paraphrase Socrates, examining life is what makes it worth living.
Integrity, alone and in transformative partnerships
We need to be able focus on ourselves, listen to our hearts, look at the way we are living our lives, and think through what should matter most.
We also need to partner with others because, in large part, we develop an understanding of what should matter through conversations with other people.
Our relationships with others can and do change us. We enter into a relationship with one view of the world, exchange ideas, and leave differently than we came.
Integrity, experience and time
As we go through life we have new experiences, meet new people, and find ourselves in new situations. The understanding we have of what should matter most is not always sufficient for responding to these different situations. Sometimes we realize that things we dismissed or that we hadn’t thought of yet actually should matter more than our previous commitments.
So, as time passes, we get older and have more encounters with the world, our views of what should matter (hopefully!) broaden and deepen. Living with integrity in the new state now looks different than it did the day before.
Ethics as the journey to living with integrity
If we believe that the others in our lives don’t or won’t care about what we are trying to work through or the journey we are on to do this working through, we are not going to feel secure enough to talk to them. We will be safer this way, but deprived of the opportunity of growing by exchanging ideas.
1) Regardless of whether or not you agree with their words or deeds, treating them with kindness, as if they had as much or more power in the relationship than you do (even if they don’t).
2) Really listening to them: opening your heart and mind to try to understand and feel their standpoint without judgment.
Treating others with respect is crucial, both because people are owed this simply by being people, and because it is necessary for creating trust so that others will be willing to partner with us.
Making decisions – alone and with others
Making decisions well requires the ability to do self-reflection well and it requires creating trusting partnerships.
Beliefs about reality and what matters, and the feelings that we are experiencing
1) this factual understanding,
2) this understanding of what matters, and
3) the feelings we are experiencing.
Our skills of self-reflection involve being able to distinguish these dimensions and make sense of each.
Our conversations with our partners need to distinguish and make room for examining these different dimensions.
Ethically Justified Decisions
a) are based on an inclusive and respectful deliberative process that involves all interested parties in a balanced way
b) include a thorough review to identify the best available information about the situation (what I will call facts)
The best decision, all things considered
Tools for individuals
Sometimes we need to think through and/or make decisions alone. This can be because we have no one else to partner with, because we don’t trust anyone enough to partner with them, or because we just need to work things out for ourselves.
TOOLS FOR TEAMS
Ideally, we are able to make decisions in teams. The team could be a professional group, a group of volunteers, or a family. The website also has a number of resources to help with how to set teams up so they can be places of trust. The website also has a number of resources to guide teams through the process of making good decisions. To view these resources, please visit the Policy Makers and Leaders sections.