Are You Ethically Intelligent?

How ethically intelligent are you? Take the following quiz, and then I’ll discuss the subject.

1. You take your 12 year old to the movies. At the box office, you see a sign that says: “Children up to 11: $6.00. Adults: $12.00.” The movie theater’s management thus considers your son to be an adult. What would you do? A. Ask for one adult and one child ticket. B. Ask for two adult tickets. C. Give your son the money and have him ask for a ticket. D. Ask your son what he thinks you should do, and then do whatever he suggests.

2. An employee you supervise comes to work late, spends a lot of time shopping online, takes long lunches and coffee breaks, and leaves early. A few months ago, you fired someone for doing the same thing. This person, however, is the daughter of a close personal friend. You’ve talked with her several times about her conduct, but the problems continue. What would you do? A. Fire her. B. Ignore it. C. Talk with her again and tell her this is her last chance to straighten up. D. Ask your friend (her parent) to talk with her.

3. You wake up on a workday with the flu. What would you do? A. Stay at home and rest. B. Stay at home and work. C. Go to work but avoid socializing with people. D. Go to work and act as normal as you can, and then come home to rest.

We would all acknowledge that life isn’t black or white, and that different people would have different reasons or motives for choosing the same answers. All the same, Bruce Weinstein, the author of the recently published book Ethical Intelligence (New World Library Publishers) has some suggestions for you about how to know which are the best ways to grapple with questions of an ethical nature.

His recommendations can be summarized in five simple principles: 1. Do No Harm. This is largely a principle of restraint. When you choose to not respond to a nasty gesture with another nasty gesture, when you choose to not pass along rumor or gossip, to not put yourself or others in situations of unnecessary risk (such as knowingly letting someone drive inebriated), or to not do or say something hurtful, you are acting like a decent human being living in a civil society, and you are attempting to prevent harm. In situations where you know you’re going to hurt someone, such as breaking up with someone you’re in a relationship with, downsizing your department or punishing your child, look at how you can minimize harm when it is unavoidable.

2. Make Things Better. 3. Respect Both Yourself and Others. You show respect by honoring the values, preferences and rights of others. “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Note that this sounds like the golden rule, but not exactly. You can safely assume that other people want you to keep private things private, tell the truth, keep your promises to them and be true to your word. That means keeping the promises you make, and don’t make promises you’re not prepared to keep.

4. Be Fair. The essence of fairness is about giving others their due when you are allocating scarce resources (such as spending enough time with your family), disciplining or punishing (which includes the second quiz question), and rectifying injustice. Let reason temper your anger when you’re punishing or fighting injustice, and conduct yourself in a way that brings out the best in you.

5. Be Loving. Or caring, compassionate and kind if loving seems out of place. That means smiling at the people you pass on the street, saying “thank you” to the grocery store cashier, truly listening during a conversation and showing sincere appreciation to the people in your life. These principles are the bedrock of all modern religious traditions, both Eastern and Western. They are guidelines for behaving well and of doing right in different situations, and they form the core of “ethical intelligence.”

By the way, Weinstein’s answers to the quiz above: 1B, 2A and 3A.

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