Results: why we are not as ethical as we think

One of the first things I noticed about today’s debate was the poll results. At the beginning each participant rated themselves on a scale of 1-5 how ethical they are. The weighted average was 4.4. At the end of the discussion we took the same poll and scored ourselves as 3.7. As a main premise of Bazerman and Tenbrunsel’s recent book “Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It” is the tendency to turn a blind eye to our own failures to be ethical (like the mice on the right), it seems that the Thinking Tank helped to raise consciousness. It’s a good start.

And some of the well supported statements in our last 5 minutes was a good finish:

  • when I tell my wife what I was doing all this time on my pc I shall answer, I was working on how to make the world a little better
  • Thank you very much- I think we learned quite a lot due to our anonymous discussion…….

What we need to be ethical

We generally agreed that ethics were necessary and standards should be met. But how? The 2 strongest statements in the debate were both about what support we need to be ethical:

  • a clear set of values
  • having the guts to risk being unpopular / sacked, having a greater purpose

We also agreed (like Barry Schwartz on TED) that actions speak louder than words:

  • it is not about the word but more about the behaviour
  • Yes, bringing ethics into everyday life and conversation is a great idea. It cannot be left in theory-land
  • ethics is not just a philosophical concept, it is a day to day issue to discuss and bring to life
  • It is not sustainable for us to all behave selfishly (often the opposite to ethically). In the end we all suffer

And the actions that the group supported most strongly are:

  • I will live and act more closely to my set of values
  • I must be on the alert watching the public discussion on ethics, including the role of the churches and our politicians, discussing these items with my family and children
  • speak up if I notice unethical behaviour

The ethical problem

We also had a frank discussion about the challenges of ethical behaviour. Although as a group we found it easier to criticise others (child abusers, politicians, high profile business fraudsters) than analyse our own shortfalls, there were some personal admissions:

  • So easy to lose touch with reality and believe in your own version of the universe
  • The same thing happens with discounters when they mistreat their employees but you go there shopping almost every day

The most common feelings from behaviour falling short of our own ethical standards is guilt

  • Feel like I let myself and others down. That I was not enough.
  • Feel like I just learnt something and will avoid that mistake next time
  • Turning a blind eye is easy in the short term than hard to live with in the long term. I feel like a coward

If this is an issue that interests you and you would like to see a complete list of the 100 statements put forward and evaluated, contact me cmshovlin@gmail.com. Join us next month? Thurs June 16th, 4-4.45pm UK time. All welcome.

Try this May 31 at 1pm UK time: RSA talk on Jonathan Wolff on #ethics and public life.

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